Originally published by Wiley. The
rights have reverted to the author.
You need to step out of the board room and get your hands dirty. You need to experience the Internet business environment first-hand to appreciate the challenges and recognize the opportunities, to see new ways to save money and to make money. You need to understand how Web page design affects traffic and marketing. And you need the insight and confidence that can come from hands-on experience so you can tell technical experts what you want and why.
Also, no matter how good your basic business idea and how great your long-term prospects, you need to be prepared to go into hibernation if venture capital is unavailable or your key customers run out of cash. Could you keep your current Web site or a new scaled-down version going with a skeleton crew or even just yourself? Could you continue to look like a going operation while you wait for the market to turn and investors and customers to come back? Or perhaps until you find a buyer for the entire business? You might be able to use that hibernation time to find your Internet roots and craft a new beginning for your Web-based business.
And if you are between jobs or getting the entrepreneurial itch for the first time, this same "bootcamp" training can help you get off to a good start, with a viable business model, and practices that take full advantage of the power and flexibility of the Internet environment, freeing you from dependence on high-priced design services and consultants.
Also, if you are a technical person rather than a manager, and have business ambitions or new business responsibilities, you may need to supplement what you know already with the broad business perspective you can get from this book.
This book does not attempt to cover the entire field of ecommerce. Rather it focuses on activities that ordinary people can easily do themselves, that are interrelated, that are key to business success, and that entrepreneurs and ecommerce managers typically delegate to experts, without knowing enough to properly set goals, coordinate activities, and monitor progress.
It does not attempt to give a broad overview of all of the alternatives -- there are books already that go into each specialty in great detail. Rather, it gives you step-by-step instructions to get you started with one or two products or services in each area, enough for you to get the experience you need for insight into important aspects of business on the Internet.
The activities described in this book require no technical knowledge, and cost little or nothing (so long as you have a computer and can connect to the Internet).
Each chapter includes one or more "required" assignments -- tasks you need to perform to prepare you for other tasks in later chapters. You'll also see suggestions for "elective activities" to expand your experience and knowledge.
My own Web site (www.samizdat.com) serves as an example of what can be done on a shoestring, without technical sophistication, and also a source for further related reading.
You can also join online discussions of these same issues at a Web site I've put together in conjunction with this book -- www.webworkzone.com/bootcamp. There you can interact with me and with other readers.
NB -- This book is targeted
primarily at users of Windows PCs, as opposed to Apple
Macintosh, UNIX, or Linux. Much of what is said here applies
equally well for Macintosh users, but some commands would be
different for them, and in some cases the software company or
Internet service described does not yet support Macintosh.
Typically, vendors follow the numbers: developing first for
Windows PCs, because they are in the overwhelming majority,
and for Macintosh only when pressed by demand from potential
You have probably used some of these capabilities (like free email) but are unaware of the range of what's available, and the implications in terms of the business activities you can engage in as an individual, at no cost and without using your company's resources or affecting your company's brand identity.
Keep in mind that change comes quickly on the Internet. The ability to adapt to new business conditions is very important to the survival and growth of Internet companies, particularly ones offering free services. They'll reorganize their entire site without warning or explanation, take away some services, others, and change their terms.
To take advantage of free service offerings, you need to be flexible and creative. If you find that a site or service does not match what is described here, presume there has been a design change. Check Help, Frequently Asked Questions, or Sitemap to reorient yourself. If the service or even the Web site has gone away, try one of the alternatives mentioned here.
Required assignments for Chapter One:
sign up for a free email account;
sign up for a free Web hosting service; create a business card page and a home page
experiment with other free services
participate in email discussion, newsgroups, forum, chat, etc.
As you go through these exercises, keep asking how you could use such a service in your business or your personal life. What is the business model behind this service? How does the provider benefit from my participation?
Why should you want a new email account?
In this bootcamp, we'll be leading you through a series of exercises to help you become an active player on the Internet. You will be trying things that you've never tried before. Hence, you need set up a safe area for yourself, where you can make mistakes and test ideas without what you are doing interfering with your normal business and family activities. If you use your normal work-related email account, with your company name in the address, what you do might in some way reflect on the company that you work for.
You might, also, at some point want to apply for jobs at other companies. In that case, it helps to have an email address that is not company-related, one that you can, with confidence, include in your resume and in correspondence related to new job opportunities.
Also, you can use different email accounts to help manage your correspondence. For instance, you could use your Hotmail account to sign up for email discussions, and another address for receiving advertising messages about products and services you are really interested in, but that you wouldn't want cluttering your business email account.
Go to hotmail.com. Sign up. Be careful to just sign up for the email service -- not for the many publications they'll ask you to subscribe to. When you arrive at the email Inbox, click on Compose and send a test message to your regular email account. Then log on at your regular account and send a message to your new Hotmail address.
You can read your Hotmail email from anywhere. You don't need to use your own PC or Mac, and you don't have to be connected by way of your regular Internet Service Provider (ISP). All you need is a Web browser connected to the Internet.
Notice that every email you send will have a one-line Microsoft (MSN) ad. And every time you go back to check for messages or to send messages, you'll see banner ads and links to other MSN services.
To get other email-related capabilities
for free, try:
www.hushmail.com for e-mail with encryption and digital signatures
www.whalemail.com to send and receive large email files (up to 50 Mbytes)
Eventually, you may wish to use that ISP-provided space. In that case, you should check their help files and call their support people for specific instructions. Procedures vary widely from one company to another.
But, first, both to learn and to gain
confidence, you should sign up at one of the free Web hosting
services that are not tied to your Internet access. Some of
the larger services include:
www.angelfire.com (owned by Terra Lycos)
www.tripod.com (owned by Terra Lycos)
www.geocities.com (owned by Yahoo)
www.nbci.com. (which bought Xoom)
Go to Angelfire and register. They'll give you 50 Mbytes of free Web space. In plain text, that's the equivalent of a hundred copies of Huckleberry Finn.
When registering, use one of the new email addresses that you just created. You'll be forced to choose one of their pre-set directories, which will become part of your address. Once you've done that, click on "Click here to Start Building".
First, create a simple business-card page. Choose to create a new file and name it businesscard.html. The suffix ".html" tells browsers how to handle the content you provide. Click on "Create". Select Basic (instead of Advanced).
Choose the "My Info Layout". Select "Style Sheet #1", and "Submit". Leave the default settings as they are, and enter as the title "Business card for [your name]". Use the "Add a List" or "Create Links" features, if you like; and change the numbers accordingly. If not, change the number for each of those choices to zero. Then, in the text block, enter the information you would like to include on your business card. Click "Save".
To see what you have created, enter the
Web address in your browser, e.g.,
Now anyone, anywhere in the world can see that page by just entering that address in their browser.
Next, use Backup in your browser to go back to the Web Shell (where you select what page to edit or create). You'll see that your business card page is now listed there. To view the page, highlight its name and click "View file". To make changes, highlight its name and click Edit.
Now edit the index page that they have
assigned you, which is also known as your "home page".
Highlight index.html, and click "Edit". The index is the page
you get to when you just type the directory name. In other
words, you could get to it by entering either
or the full address
Delete the name that they have for
"main image" (or you'll wind up with an Angelfire logo). Edit
as you like, and enter the text that you'd like to appear.
Under "Create Links", make a link to your business-card page.
To do that, under "URL", enter
And under "Description", enter "My Business Card". Click "Save".
Now view your index page, and click on the link you just created for your business card page.
Next, backup, select your business card
page, and click "Edit". Under "Create Links", raise the number
by one, click Refresh, then add a link to your home page.
Save. View the page. Test the link.
If you have pictures saved on your hard drive, scroll down the Web Shell page to "File Upload" and "Browse" to select pictures that you'd like to include on your Web pages. Then use the page creation templates to add those images where you would like (entering the full name of each file, including the extension, which will probably be .jpg or .gif).
You can experiment as much as you like here. Nobody will know that these pages exist unless you tell them. Edit and reedit. See what happens when you make different choices. Add links to your favorite Web pages. Add lists. Create more pages. Check the "Help" and "Tool Center" areas for instructions on how to add fancy effects.
You are now a Web publisher. Yes, every page you create will have Angelfire advertising at the top. And these pages are designed in ways that might make them difficult to find by search engines. But if you are creative, you could do some useful and fun things with this space.
For our purposes, you should open at least one more account. Go to NBCi.com. They offer unlimited Web space (while Angelfire limits you to 50 Mbytes).
You won't see this offer immediately. It's buried among many other free services. The site owners would probably love for you to get lost here, exploring again and again, getting the impression that whatever you might need that's related to the Internet is probably buried here somewhere.
Click the "Join now!" button. Then click on the "Membership Form." Fill out the form. Unless you love to receive junk mail, don't indicate any areas of interest, and remove the check marks indicating that you want to get email from them. Also, when you pick a member name and password, keep in mind that the system is "case sensitive". If you enter any upper case characters, you'll have to remember that they are upper case. (As a rule of thumb, I always enter such information all in lower case -- that makes it easier to remember).
Click to go back to the Home page and then click once again on "Join Now!" The help page you arrive at lists the various free services that you can sign up for.
Under "Web Site Building & Hosting", click on "Free storage space for your Web site." Their current offer of free unlimited space means that "there is no limit on how many files you upload to your account", as long as you do not violate their "Terms of Service Agreement". Click to see the Terms of Service. For related details, click on Frequently Asked Questions.
The pages that you create here will
have an address in the form
If your member name is jones5 and you create a page which you call myson.html, after that page is uploaded, you'll be able to see it on the Web at
From the home page, click on My NBCi. Then click on My Web Site. "New users, click here to activate your Web site." You'll be asked to enter your email address (use your new one) and to copy an "activation code" into a form. Be careful to reproduce the letters and numbers exactly. This is case sensitive. The code is probably intended to block automated programs from using this service. (Whenever something useful is offered for free, people find creative ways to abuse it.)
NBCi (AKA Xoom) used to offer free template-based tools for building Web pages, but have discontinued that service. In Chapter Three, you'll learn how to create pages on your own PC (rather than using Web-based templates) and how to then upload those pages to the Web with a standard utility (FTP = file transfer protocol). Then we'll start to build a real site in your NBCi space.
For now, click on My Website and check the wide variety of other free services available at NBCi. You could set up another email account here. In fact, they give you one automatically when you sign up with Web space; you just have to activate it. If you do, you'll have an address of the form email@example.com You can also set up your own chat rooms, personalize your online auction pages, and setup an online store (by way of Bigstep.com).
All the major "portal" sites, like Yahoo, Excite, MSN, AOL, etc. offer you a wide range of free services. Any one of these could become your one-stop place to get everything you need for a great Web experience -- from Web search and directory services, to Web design tools, to discussion areas, to shopping, to content. They strive to earn your loyalty, to get you to come back again and again. But you have many choices for all these services they offer -- all free. And there is no reason for you to use just one such site. Hence the statistics these sites provide about how many members they have, how many Web sites they host, and how many email accounts they have are misleading. Many people open accounts, create Web pages, etc. and then never return or return rarely, having found other services they like better. Today there are over a billion pages on the Web. But hundreds of millions of those pages may be accounted for in Web sites that have been abandoned by their owners, who have no incentive to delete them since the space they reside on is free.
And sometimes "free" is far too expensive. The provider of the free service deliberately makes the experience so annoying that you'll be willing to pay to get rid of the nuisance. That's the case with free Internet access today.
Connect to www.juno.com or www.netzero.com and download their free access software. Even if you already have Internet access from home, in addition to access from work, you might find good use for an account like this. If you travel a lot and take your laptop with you, you'll be able to dial-in to local numbers for free from just about anywhere in the US, to use the Web and send email. (You'll get another email account with this new service).
But the price is high -- very high. Juno's "guide" and related advertising will litter your screen and get in your way at every turn. With free Juno, when you are connected to the Internet, their banner stays on your screen even when you use other applications on your computer and covers other output. In other words, if you try to open a new application by clicking on Start and then Programs, the Juno banner will cover a large part of your screen, making it difficult for you to see and select the program you want.
Ironically, free Internet access services are primarily used by newbies -- the people who are most easily confused and frustrated by the ads and other "features" these services tack on that make the Internet more difficult to use.
What we see is a variant of the old supply-demand rule. In areas where there are many flourishing services, they compete with one another by reducing the nuisances and making their service easy to use and friendly. But where there are very few services and what they provide is in high demand, the providers can pile on advertising, limitations, and requirements for long-term commitment.
During the period of the dot.com crash (starting in the spring of 2000), many free Internet access services went away, including those once offered by AltaVista, Worldspy, Freewwweb, 1stup, Spinway, Bluelight, and Excite. Only Juno (4 million users) and NetZero (7 million users) remain today. Their approach is rather like that of the airlines: the greater the level of hassle at the basic (economy class) level, the more the incentive to upgrade to premium (first class).
If you are interested in tracking the trends in the free ISP business, check www.nzlist.org/user/freeisp for links to related news stories.
Meanwhile, free services related to online discussion have been growing, with new capabilities and new entrants.
Online discussion -- linking people to people, rather than people to information or to automated functions -- probably draws more people to the Internet than any other capability, and keeps them coming back.
From the earliest email distribution
lists, "usenet newsgroups" grew as a way to link people with
common interests and let them have their say in a free-for-all
environment. Today, there are tens of thousands of newsgroups,
at least one for every imaginable topic. Each of those groups
typically has dozens, if not hundreds of postings each day.
Some postings are short -- like email messages stuck on a
bulletin board for interested people to peruse. Others are
articles or lengthy reference documents. Newsgroups are a wild
frontier territory where people speak candidly, sharing their
insights and experiences. If you want to know what your
customers really think of your product or your competitor's
product, that's where you should look.
If your ISP offers newsgroup service as part of its basic package, you can read newsgroup postings through your Web browser or read and post through Outlook Express or special newsreader software. In the past, Deja.com's Web site made it easy for people who didn't have newsgroup service to read any posting, to search through postings, and to post. But after a long slow decline, Deja.com recently folded. Google bought their service, and is now rebuilding it.
Meanwhile, a handful of little-known
Web-based services help keep newsgroups alive:
In addition, numerous separate
Web-based discussion and collaboration services now thrive:
www.intranets.com provides "a private space on the Web where your group can easily access and share documents"
www.multicity.com includes chat rooms, message boards, web polls, instant messenger, etc., with instant automatic translation for 20 languages
www.quicktopic.com combines email and Web-based discussion
www.quickdot.com offers email-based discussion and collaboration
www.delphi.com lets you create your own forums (bulletin boards) and chats
www.nicenet.org provides free forum-style discussion space for educational purposes
www.topica.com mail hosts email lists to help you manage your email newsletter or discussion group
www.server.com mail provides free community-style applications that you can add to your Web site
groups.yahoo.com/local/news.html (formerly egroups) helps you set up and run your own email discussions
www.webworkzone.com (from SiteScape.com) offers a paid service with secure forums, chat, and collaborative sharing.
Some of these sites as well as major portals, like Yahoo, Tripod, and Excite, provide free chat rooms as well.
Other sites, such as www.yack.com and www.talkcity.com, specialize in chat.
You should try at least one of these discussion sites now, as part of your general orientation. In Chapter Five we'll talk about how to use existing online discussion services to help promote your Web site and your personal expertise. Then in Chapter Seven we'll deal with how to start and run your own discussions in order to build content for your site, to attract traffic, and to better serve your customers.
Likewise, the basic version of some software is available for free download over the Web or may come preinstalled on your PC. The vendors hope you'll try it, get used to it, and decide that you need it so much that you are willing to pay to get beyond the built-in limitations. MusicJukeBox does that especially well. After you've tried their music playing/management software, you are an easy prospect for their "plus" version with more features and also for a subscription for "lifetime upgrades," even though you don't know if you need them. It's that good, that much fun, that easy and convenient that if they are developing something even better, you are sure that you'd love that too.
Sometimes software is only free for a trial period; and when time runs out, you have to pay or stop using it.
Some companies combine these varieties of "free." For instance, you can try Log Analyzer, an excellent Web traffic tool from WebTrends that we'll look at in Chapter Six, for free for a month. Or you can try their free service WebTrends Live, which provides far less useful information and also requires you to put their advertising on your pages.
Or, as in the case of virus protection software, the software itself is free, but you have to pay for a subscription to get the updates, which are essential for the software to be effective.
Other, very useful software that you can try for free but which also comes in a "professional" version includes HumanClick (www.humanclick.com), which we'll discuss in Chapter Nine; and RealPlayer for playing streaming audio and video (www.real.com), which we'll cover in Chapter Eleven.
Trying to make sense of the Internet business environment
In the early days of the Internet, when everybody was undercutting everyone else on price, it seemed that the best business model was to offer a useful service for free (nobody could undercut you on that price) and build an audience, which would then be the basis for your real business. They saw one example after another of free software and service quickly attracting an audience, like Netscape and Yahoo. They presumed that once they had an audience, they could sell something to that audience and make a profit. But time and again, company B decided to build its audience by giving away what company A was trying to sell.
They were caught in the razor/razor blade bind. What's your razor and what's your razor blade? What should you give away or sell at a low price to build an audience? And what can you sell at a profit to the audience that you have won?
On the Internet, one company's razor is another's razor blade. Chances are good that someone else is giving away or soon will give away the very service that you were counting to profit on. (I first heard this concept discussed at Internet World in San Jose, April 1995).
This trend means that the Internet is a buyer's market, with interesting new capabilities continually being offered to end users for free or at low cost. Hence, new applications get adopted very rapidly, sometimes fundamentally changing how businesses can and should operate on the Web.
Caught in this trap, "successful" Web-based companies, with audiences in the millions, decided to follow the model of television and sell or rent their audiences (through advertising) to generate revenue. But banner advertising on the Web is far different from television advertising. It isn't just an interruption in the programming (a snack or nature break), but rather is a continuous distraction and an invitation to leave the site and go somewhere else. Unless used extremely well (placed on the right pages, including the right kinds of messages, and leading to lots of useful related detail and help), they simply donn't produce the level of sales that advertisers hope for. Banner advertising was not the answer. There is no one simple way to generate revenue from a Web audience.
Don't confuse marketshare and Internet
audience. Your Internet audience is the set of people who
regularly access your Web pages and/or voluntarily subscribe
to your distribution lists. They may or may not ever buy
anything from you. Growth in terms of numbers of users
is not necessarily an indication of success -- you could be
losing money with every new user, with no payoff in sight.
In emerging markets, companies typically make major investments to capture marketshare. They absorb large losses for a few years, with the idea that as the market grows, they'll "own" a solid and predictable percentage of that market and reap large profits over the long run. That approach assumes that the market will follow predictable patterns of growth and maturity. But on the Internet, some other player may decide to give away the equivalent of your product or service in hopes of making money in some other way. So regardless of how good your product is and how large your audience is, your opportunities for future profit could evaporate. (We'll discuss what you can and should do to turn your audience into profitable business in Chapter Nine.)
Meanwhile, we also see a trend of specialization and multiple flexible partnerships. Web companies typically don't try to do everything themselves, but rather join forces with other companies to quickly and inexpensively offer new services to their audience. For instance, a company that provides free Internet search services might get its search index from one provider, get its directory from another, provide email service to its users through another, have arrangements with one or more companies that sell advertising for it, run its service on the machines of a Web hosting service, and provide online chat (voice or text) through another provider. Almost everything has been "out-sourced" Web-style, through partnering. And, invisible to Web site visitors, many of those arrangements may not involve the exchange of cash, but rather be based on revenue sharing, and contingent on sales eventually being generated. What looks like a huge portal might be run by a handful of people in a garage.
Keep that model in mind as you build your own company, and also remember it when evaluating and negotiating partnerships. What does your partner bring to the plate directly, and what comes from partners of that partner? And how likely is it that the key players will be able to deliver what they have committed for on the same terms for the long run?
Although the technology is quite different, many people associate privacy (information about who you are and what you do) with advertising (commercial messages you see that you never asked to see). Therefore, we'll also touch on concerns about "cookies" and "banner ads" and how you and your customers can zap both of them.
Required assignments for Chapter Two:
try anonymous Web browsing at anonymizer.com
try banner-free surfing with AdSubtract software from interMute
set up an anonymous online surprise party for a friend
Anonymity can be passive (privacy) or
active (masquerade). Privacy means preventing others from
getting access to information about you. Masquerade means
creating a new identity.
You may put a high value on privacy, even though you have nothing to hide. And you may value masquerade as enabling you to do things that otherwise you would never do -- a liberating experience that allows you to explore who you are and who you want to be.
You probably want to have control over what other people and companies know about you and your preferences, habits, financial condition, and behavior. So do your customers.
Except in special cases (which we'll discuss below), the spread of personal information is likely to be a nuisance, or perhaps an embarrassment, rather than leading to financial loss or calculable damage. But this issue is emotionally charged. Loyal customers can turn into rapid enemies over privacy concerns. Hence you need hands-on experience to build a personal appreciation for the special importance of privacy on the Internet.
Some people won't use an online service unless they can remain anonymous. They don't want to leave a trail, and they don't want merchants to gather personal information about them and their surfing habits or buying habits, mainly because they don't want to be inundated with unwanted email and other intrusive commercial contacts.
Consequences of Insensitivity
Merchants schooled in the world of physical commerce and mass market strategies place a very high value on detailed demographic information and details about the buying habits of individuals and classes of individuals. They are used to collecting and using, buying and selling such information for direct mail (postal) and telemarketing efforts. When they issue coupons or advertise special offers with a number to call or an address to write to, they are interested in making the immediate sale, but also presume that they are buying the right to save, organize, and reuse or sell the information they gather in the process. Naturally, they extend that expectation to the realm of the Internet, and evaluate opportunities and make business plans with the value of the customer-related information included in the equation. But that could be an enormous mistake.
For example, in Nov. 1999, DoubleClick bought Abacus Direct. DoubleClick sells banner ad space and delivers banner ads to the Web sites of their clients. Abacus Direct kept databases with information about consumer habits. DoubleClick planned to combine the Abacus information with their own information about consumers' online behavior (the sites and pages they visit). The result would be extremely detailed profiles of tens of thousands of users -- information that advertisers would value highly. But news of this plan sparked a firestorm of protest from consumers, leading to an FTC investigation.
DoubleClick dropped the plan, but not before their public image had suffered enormous damage.
In the early days of business on the Web, physical-world marketers thought that email was "free" and that it would be insane not to use email to put their messages in front of the eyeballs of millions of people. Even with ridiculously low rates of response, the benefits would be huge. They assembled and used and sold enormous, undifferentiated distribution lists. In so doing, they enraged many of the people who received those messages, as well as the Internet service providers whose access lines and systems were slowed by them.
Email does cost, but the cost is not born by the sender, as with postal mail and long-distance phone calls; but rather by the companies that provide service to the recipients and the recipients themselves -- in terms of time and nuisance and inboxes so clogged with unwanted messages that important ones cannot be received.
As a consequence, recipients of unwanted commercial email (known as "spam") often struck back at the perpetrators with pranks and guerrilla tactics.
Spam still persists, clogging all our inboxes -- thanks, in part, to techniques that help mask the spammers from the would-be vigilantes. Just today, I received a spam message, advertising a database CD-ROM with names, contact information, physical address, phone, Fax, domain name, and contact email addresses for over 12 million domain name owners, worldwide. To comply with the letter of the law, they even include an "email remove list" to help you to avoid sending your message to those who don't want to receive it. Price: $999.99, plus $25 shipping.
But, today, spam messages primarily promote casinos, porn sites, and questionable offers, which makes use of spam tactics by legitimate businesses all the more unwise, because the medium becomes the message and the user becomes guilty by association with the sleazy companies that continue to use it regularly.
Responsible companies have learned that the damage incurred to them by their using spam can be far greater than the benefit. Laws have also been drafted to prevent or at least curb spam, but the PR damage remains a far greater disincentive than the law.
As a side-effect of the proliferation of spam, many Internet users have become very sensitive about how basic information about them -- such as their email address -- is used by online businesses. Their street address and telephone number are public knowledge (unless they pay extra to be unlisted). But they consider their email address to be private information, and don't want to be included on any distribution list, without giving their permission.
For example, in April 2001, a reporter
at The Register noticed some peculiar wording in the "terms of
use" agreement that users of Microsoft's Passport service
tacitly agreed to. "By posting messages, uploading files,
inputting data, submitting any feedback or suggestions, or
engaging in any other form of communication with or through
the Passport Web Site... you are granting Microsoft and its
affiliated companies permission to:
1. Use, modify, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, publish, sublicense, create derivative works from, transfer, or sell any such communication.
2. Sub license to third parties the unrestricted right to exercise any of the foregoing rights granted with respect to the communication.
3. Publish your name in connection with any such communication.... No compensation will be paid with respect to Microsoft's use of the materials contained within such communication."
In this case, the public outrage was fueled by the Big Brother image of Microsoft, as a huge company, with the power to use such information in a wide variety of ways, to further build its strength, and further erode the privacy of its customers. Within a few days, Microsoft apologetically rewrote the terms for its Passport service, which probably had been mistakenly drafted by overzealous lawyers, rather than by nefarious marketers.
The more common approach is to include questions at the bottom of the registration form that explicitly ask for permission to send you commercial email. Often the default setting is to have the boxes already checked -- so you have to uncheck them if you don't want to receive advertising, newsletters, etc. by email and don't want them reselling your email address and information about you.
Consider your options and the possible consequences very carefully before gathering and using or selling or buying information about online consumers. Think of doing business on the Internet like doing business in a foreign country, where you need to respect cultural sensitivities -- paying attention to factors you never considered important before -- or suffer grave consequences. The privacy of personal, commercial-related information -- including email addresses -- is a very sensitive issue on the Internet. News of intentional wrong-doing and foolish blunders related to privacy spread very rapidly.
For example, here are excerpts from a
well-informed and well-reasoned privacy-related warning that
was sent out by email to a small list of friends, who then
sent it to their friends, etc., spreading rapidly in typical
Internet style, in April 2001:
To protect yourself from hackers and thieves:How Much Are You Willing to Sell Your Privacy For?
1. Visit Steve Gibson's website at www.grc.com frequently to read up on all the latest security hacks.
2. Subscribe to Fred Langa's newsletters: http://www.langalist.com/newsletters/2001/2001-03-29.htm. This is a top resource for Windows users.
To avoid being spied upon by big companies (or outright crooks) that mine your web activity for their profit:
1. Don't use AOL Version 6 software or Netscape 6 browser unless you know how to turn off the monitoring. Purportedly, these packages install software to report to AOL the names and locations of every file you download over the net--even if they aren't running at the time.
2. Avoid "free" ISP services. Almost all monitor your activities and sell your profile to unknown parties.
3. Never respond to an email that invites you to go to a website and register for a contest. These emails (and the websites that you are sent to) are sent by crackers collecting your email address and other information... Once they know where you are, you can be targeted... until they finally get a credit card number or other useful information... Legitimate companies frequently send out contest or registration forms to their users, but just because they say it came from Palm Computing, doesn't mean it did. Look at the URLs in the location bar of your browser. If the website is at www.palm.com, it might be legit. If the website is a multi digit IP address (like 3220.127.116.11 or any other number) it's surely a scam.
4. Don't let your kid or teen play NeoPets (www.neopets.com). This is a fun internet game that encourages kids to enter data on their parents financial situation (and other info) to gain points that can be used to play the game. It's kind of like Dungeons and Dragons but you have to fill out an online form for a second home mortgage in order to raise your player character to level 2. I'm not kidding!!!!
To avoid paying for someone else's BMW:
-- your computer cycles belong to them,
-- you can't turn off your computer, and
-- you can't even ask what the software is doing.
What can their software do?
-- Scan your disk looking for expired or invalid licenses and report you for software piracy. (Do you know every program on you hard disk?)
-- Scan your disk looking for porn and report you to the authorities.
-- Scan your disk for non-Microsoft applications (like Word Perfect) and direct a huge advertising campaign to you to switch vendors.
-- Use your machine to solve commercial problems and make a huge profit for themselves
-- Use your machine to model nuclear explosions, germ warfare and other Defense Department research projects use your machine to support the computing needs of any number of companies and programs for which you have no sympathy.
Even if the vendor is 100% squeaky clean and honorable, their software opens a path to your computer. You and they will have virtually no way to know if a cracker gang has replaced the intended application with one of their own and your computer might become:
-- an engine for downloading porn
-- a website for the neo-nazi party
-- a resource for Iraq's weapons research
2. Don't fall for phony charities. The current buzz about six million PC users helping fight Cancer is a rip-off. The system is run by a for-profit company that uses your computer resources to solve problems for drug companies. They make big profits, you may end up paying higher connect fees to your ISP depending on your service contract, and the drug companies will not lower their prices. You could also fight cancer this way by offering to work for the drug company for free.
Simply, don't allow any company or individual to place software on your computer that causes it to receive commands from the Internet or do local computing and broadcast results back over the net.
Ashley Grayson [VP, Web Tools International, a software engineering, firm, www.wti.com]
So why did you just sign up for free services on the Internet, registering with those services and hence providing them with information about yourself?
It's a tradeoff. You give them
something and they give you something. Remember, you started
the process by opening a new email account and used that
account when you registered at the other services.
Yes, the email provider has your "real" email address; but the others just have this free one. You'll expect both useful advertising messages (matching your real interests) and plain spam to accumulate in this free account, rather than your primary account.
Many people have a double-standard when it comes to commercial privacy. Yes, it's easy to get self-righteous. How dare anyone gather information about you? And how dare they use that information in ways that you didn't anticipate, selling data about your online behavior and purchases to other companies, who then bombard you with ads, clogging your email box, wasting your time and your online resources?
But if a vendor or a Web site offers the smallest reward in exchange for permission to gather and/or distribute information about your preferences and buying behavior, you readily agree. Hence, you use a "convenience card" at your local supermarket, inviting the store to track your every purchase, in exchange for discounts on a few products.
We discussed some of the tradeoffs involved in "free" services (and Juno in particular) in Chapter One. Part of that price is what you give up in personal privacy.
Many online marketing companies have
built their businesses around "permission" or opt-in email.
For example, at www.mypoints.com, you earn points toward
rewards "simply by reading email, shopping online, touring web
sites and more." You receive their email in a Web-based
format, with images and links. By clicking in response to such
a message, you can earn frequent flier miles on your favorite
airline or points toward products or services of interest to
you. The messages often announce special offers and
limited-time bargains of the very kind you are interested in
(based on the profile that you provide them). Reportedly,
members don't consider these messages as spam. Rather, their
main complaint is that they don't get enough of this
kind of mail.
Instead of discounts and points toward rewards, www.iwon.com gives you entries in cash-prize, lottery-style contests. You register, so they know exactly who you are and can correlate that information with records of what you searched for and clicked on at their site. You automatically collect entries in these contests (up to a maximum of 100 per day) for clicking on links marked with gray numbers and a prompt (">") to the left of the link. "For example, clicking on a link with 5> to the left of it will give you 5 entries towards each of the Daily, Monthly and Annual Sweepstakes." They show you your current number of entries in a real-time counter at the top of your screen. They also occasionally offer "Bonus" entries for various activities. "Every day, iWon gives away a guaranteed $10,000 cash prize (through March 31, 2002)."
PeoplePC offers a low-cost package deal
on both a PC and Internet service for a claim to your eyeballs
and your personal information. Today, for as low as $24.95 a
month (the price depends on which PC you choose), you get:
a name-brand computer, replaced every 3 years,
unlimited Internet access,
10 Mbytes for your own website,
special shopping offers
Meanwhile, GetPaid4.com will pay you to use your computer, as long as you are connected to the Internet and active. Basically, they share the money they are paid by advertisers with the people who agree to view the advertising. They put a bar at the bottom of your screen that displays ads as you surf the Web. Apparently, the payout rate is usually around 40 cents per hour. (For December 1999, it was 48 cents per hour.) "Every month we guarantee that the payment will be at least 70+% of net advertising revenues generated by users." GetPaid4 considers you "Active" if you move your mouse at least one time per minute. "If after one consecutive minute you have not moved your mouse your Getpaid4 Bar will turn Yellow on the left side and time will stop counting. Once you move your mouse again the Bar will turn back to Green and your usage will continue being tracked." In other words, you get penalized if you are actually interested in what you see, and spend some time reading it. You also have to periodically click on the ads in the GetPaid4 bar to qualify. "A member's active status is defined by maintaining a 0.5 to 5 percent response rate on the ads. If at one point in time you are considered inactive, all you have to do to become active again is stay within the required click through range and make sure you are meeting the other requirements such as being connected to the Internet and moving your mouse once every minute."
Note that if you get a computer from PeoplePC and use it for about 63 hours or more of qualified surfing under GetPaid4 each month, the payments you receive from GetPaid4 will probably offset what you pay for your PC and Internet access service from PeoplePC.
Serious Privacy: When You Absolutely Need to be Anonymous
The definition of "privacy" and the laws related to it vary considerably from one country to another. In special instances, courts in the U.S. put an extremely high value on privacy, for instance with regard to medical records (especially when AIDS is involved), some personnel files, records of drug testing, information about juvenile offenders and ex-convicts, the identity of parents who give their children up for adoption, and in some cases, the identity and whereabouts of witnesses.
Personal information that to ordinary consumer might be insignificant, something they'd willing to trade off for a benefit like a free service or entry in a lottery, to someone else might be a serious concern, perhaps even a matter of life and death. Operating in a global environment, that includes some countries that operate as police states, with little concern for personal privacy and no protection for free speech, you need to be sensitive to the needs of these individuals and aware of the options available to them. Also, remember that even in the US, freedom of speech may be abridged by fear of retribution by employers, government, spouse, parents, etc., unless people have a means to mask their identity when saying what they truly believe and feel strongly about.
Check the Center for Democracy and Technology http://snoop.cdt.org for discussion of the civil liberties and privacy implications of software that gathers information about Web site visitors. They run a program that captures your email address and automatically sends you an email message to demonstrate what can be known about you if you simply access a Web page.
People who have cancer, mental illness, and substance abuse problems also sometimes need assurance of anonymity before they will seek help from professionals or from one another (in mutual support groups). They may have reason to fear social ostracism, harm to their career, or even legal consequences should their identity be revealed to the wrong people.
Writers and politicians have expressed concern that the ability of computers to record your every online activity and to quickly correlate all information related to you represents a serious threat to individual liberty. The Big Brother who is watching you, need not be a totalitarian government. It could be a large company, or many companies cooperating with one another.
Fortunately, the Internet also provides opportunities for new levels of anonymity, for greater privacy than ever possible before, while giving you the ability to widely disseminate whatever you have to say. In countries where citizens do not have the right to free speech and free press, the Internet provides a channel for dissidents to interact with one another and with the outside world, including the media. People who wish to report wrong doing, but would feel at risk if they had to reveal their identity can also use the Internet.
"Anonymous remailer" sites disguise the origin of a message, resending it to its destination, and also forwarding the replies. They provide an extra degree of privacy, allowing ordinary users to disguise themselves in ways that otherwise would only be available to expert hackers. Naturally, such sites are constantly subject to legal challenge -- like newspaper reporters being forced to reveal their sources. Their defense against such challenges depends on part on the laws of the country where they operate, and in part on the nuisance factor -- how difficult it is to force them to reveal information across international boundaries.
To sample such a service, try www.exonet.org/remailer (in the Netherlands); or go to a search engine, like AltaVista, and look for "anonymous remailer".
Anonymous Web Browsing
All recent browsers (less than about four years old) support "cookies." That means that they store on your computer a file that can automatically relay to sites that you visit information about your recent Web surfing experiences, such as what page you saw before coming to their site, and what pages you have visited at their site. Based on that information and anything else that you voluntarily tell them, they may present you with automatically generated Web pages, tailored to your presumed preferences, as well as related advertising. They can also use this information to fine-tune their site to better serve you and others like you.
The sites you visit can also know your "domain" (the part of an email address to the right of the @ sign). But they probably won't know your complete email address, unless you give it to them. If they do have your email address and other information about you, they can correlate that with what they learn from "cookies" about your experiences and preferences at their site.
If you don't want to let Web sites gather that kind of information about you, you can change the default setting on your browser to disable cookies. In recent versions of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, click on Tools, then Internet Options, then the Security tab. Move the slider bar from Medium (the default setting), up to High if you want to totally disable cookies. You can have different security settings for different classes of sites (chosen by you), such as Trusted Sites and Restricted Sites. In recent versions of Netscape, click on Edit, then Preferences, then Advanced. There you can choose to disable cookies altogether or to have your browser warn you whenever a Web page tries to get access to your cookie file. But each page you go to might have as many as half a dozen cookies associated at it, making the alert a major nuisance. And many important sites -- including your online bank -- might not let you see their content and do business with them if you don't allow them to put their cookies on your system.
Fortunately, there is an alternative. Services like Anonymizer www.anonymizer.com permit you to surf anonymously, even with your cookies turned on. If you want to buy something online, you'll have to clearly and verifiably identify yourself; but information about your casual surfing can remain private.
As required a assignment for this chapter, go to www.anonymizer.com and try their anonymous surfing for free. If you want to use it regularly, they currently charge a subscription fee of $14.99 for three months. When enabled, this software encrypts cookies from remote sites and reorganizes them in a temporary session-only cookie that disappears as soon as you close your browser. That way Web sites can't match who you are (from your login information) with what you do at their site (from the cookies left on you PC). It also encrypts information about the addresses of the sites you visit, to prevent your ISP, employer, spouse, or anyone else with access to your PC or your connection to the Internet from keeping track of what you do online.
If you need even stronger anonymity, you can sign up for anonymous dial-up service, with Anonymizer as your ISP (currently, $59.99 for 3 months).
In addition, their "Window Washer" hard-drive cleaning software (for $29.95) clears away all trace of your Internet use from your PC, and makes erased files unrecoverable. (Think of this as the computer equivalent of a shredding machine.)
Anonymizer, states its mission in the context of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks... Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." Anonymizer's mission is "to ensure that an individual's right to privacy is not compromised by going online."
When you are buying or selling banner advertising, keep in mind that many people who understand the Internet and use it often will never see those ads of yours. If you are paying per impression (CPM), many of those visitors you are paying for may be of no value to you.
For instance, software from www.webwasher.com, a spin-off of Siemens in Germany, allows you to browse without seeing banner ads -- which not only removes the nuisance distractions of advertising, but also gives you faster response time, for more productive sessions on the Web. Current price: $29.00 US.
Likewise, AdSubtract products from interMute remove both banner ads and cookies. As part of your required assignment, visit www.adsubtract.com, go to their download area and get a copy of their AdSubtract SE, the version that is free for personal use. Follow the online directions to install the software. Then use it to view 1) your company's Web site, and 2) a major portal that's heavily-laden with banner ads, like Yahoo.
Open AdSubtract and take a close look at what this software provides. Click on the "Filters" tab, and you can choose up to accept cookies from selected sites (for instance, your online bank). Click on the "Browsers" tab, and you see that it works with IE, Netscape, AOL, and Opera. You can set up the software to work with all browsers or only with one (in case you have more than one browser installed and want to do banner-free and cookie-free browsing with just one of them). Click on the "Stats" tab to see how many ads and cookies the software has blocked for you.
By the way, when I uninstalled AdSubtract, it removed itself automatically from IE, but not from Netscape. If you have a similar experience with Netscape, click on Edit, then Preferences, then on the + sign next to Advanced, then on Proxies. AdSubtract may have left its manual proxy setting in place. Simply click next to Direct connection to the Internet if that's how you had it before. Or click on View next to Manual proxy configuration and reenter the settings you had before.
The Business Value of Anonymity
In general, business needs a mix of anonymity and verifiable identity to function smoothly. The success of marketing surveys, customer satisfaction surveys, focus groups, and employee and customer suggestion programs often depends on being able to guarantee anonymity, because with anonymity comes candor, freely expressing what you think without concerning yourself about possible consequences.
It can be far easier and less expensive to gather anonymous marketing data on the Internet than by traditional methods. For instance, you can quickly sample public opinion and/or create and administer effective surveys over the Internet, getting candid reactions to your and your competitors' products from customers and prospects. And these surveys can be "blind" (anonymous) so the people providing the answers don't know who is sponsoring the survey (which could skew the results).
Also, you could give your employees an anonymous Web-based channel to vent their frustration, to report problems and wrongdoing within the company, and to express their ideas for change, outside the chain of command and without fear of retribution. If they do not have such a channel inside the company, they may well do their venting with shielded identities in newsgroups or email discussion lists, or they may turn to one of the many specialized anonymous whistleblower sites on the Internet, such as www.fuckedcompany.com. In other words, thanks to the Internet, overzealous efforts to stifle employee expression could lead to widespread and uncontrolled dissemination of such remarks.
Fucked Company requires validation by the press before posting news in their Recent Fucks area. But the Happy Fun Slander area is wide open, and very well populated with unfriendly swipes at major Internet companies. Fucked Company tells users: "While your identity is completely anonymous (this web server doesn't even keep traffic logs), know that anything you write in this form will become viewable by the general public..." You might want to take an occasional look there, and also do an occasional search in newsgroups to see what people are saying about your company, your partners, your competitors, and your customers. You can be sure that reporters regular check these sources for story leads.
Polling and Surveys
Free Web-hosting sites typically offer free polling applications for you to add to your Web pages to amuse and engage your visitors. For instance, you could ask "what to you think of ___ on a scale of 1 to 5?" "President _______ just said _______. Do you agree or disagree?" "Rumor has it that the Yankees want to trade Derek Jeter for Sammy Sosa. Should they or shouldn't they?" The current results are tabulated and displayed live (so you can immediately see the effect of your "vote.")
If you are interested in getting
serious results, rather than simply providing entertainment,
turn to Zoomerang.com. Zoomerang lets you create surveys and
get feedback. They protect the privacy and confidential
information of members who build and deploy surveys and also
the panelists who register to respond to surveys. You can
build your survey based on one of their templates or customize
one. You can choose from a list of qualified respondents
(panelists who have pre-signed with Zoomerang) or enter your
own email list. You launch your surveys with a personalized
email greeting to each panelist.
Respondents earn awards for completing surveys. You can view the results in graphic form, with your browser.
Making Sense of Banner Zapping, Cookie Crunching Software
On the Internet, software vendors often profit from both sides of an on-going struggle.
One company develops cookies and another comes up with a cookie zapper. One comes up with creative ways to generate personalized Web pages on the fly based on information about the behavior of individual users. And another helps block disclosure of user information. One develops software to serve banner ads, and another sells an ad basher.
Each radically new development creates demand for its antithesis in a gentle tug-of-war.
So when you are tempted to change your whole business to take advantage of a new capability, keep in mind that software designed to undermine that capability will probably be available soon. Not that the capability will go away or be totally negated, but rather that it will probably not be as widely deployed or as effective as you originally presumed.
To spot new business opportunities, look for solutions that are diametrically opposed to business model that is most popular today. For instance, if, as discussed in the Introduction, you see companies successfully supporting the "Internet is the computer" model, you might want to develop services to support the opposite, "Internet-on-the-desk" model.
Expect Internet software development and business models to advance in this push-pull fashion, with few outright winners, but rather a continuous tension, in a gentle rocking tug-of-war among opposite trends, with an ever-growing series of opportunities on both ends.
Imagine you've rented it and are wearing it. Tell yourself who you are now. Then begin to tell old friends who you know are online that this is who you are -- sending them email under this new persona and not letting on who you really are. Then try out this persona with total strangers in anonymous gathering areas, like live chat and email discussion groups. Enjoy. Take this project seriously enough for you to begin to feel what it's like to shed your everyday identity for awhile and become someone else. You've been reincarnated on line.
Now, as an elective assignment for this chapter, approach a friend under this new identity of yours and encourage that friend (or spouse or significant other) to don a new identity too and join you for online discussion at a time and place of your choosing. Tell this person that you've organized an online masquerade party in his or her honor. Set the theme for the party. Approach at least three other people and write them too, inviting them to the party. Follow up with online greeting cards. Go to www.americangreetings.com, www.hallmark.com, www.blab.com, www.e-cards.com, ecards.amazon.com, or www.bluemountain.com, and check out their "ecard" offerings. These are graphic and sometimes animated messages that you can personalize and send for free by email. Send out such messages periodically to your invitees, reminding them and getting them psyched for your event.
If you regularly encounter the invitees and guest of honor in the real world, pass along some notes and pictures in the same vein, without giving away that you are the source. Maybe offer a tangible prize for the partygoer with the best new identity in keeping with the theme or for whoever does the best job of staying in character.
If you can, hold this party now. Do it in a chat room you set up for the occasion. If you still feel ill-equipped to go that far, read ahead to Chapter Seven, where you'll learn how to set up your own chat room, and maybe even read ahead to Chapter Eleven and include use of a webcam in your online party. But sooner or later, do it -- for the fun of it and for the experience and what you can learn about yourself and about the Internet business environment from this experience.
Invitation to Be Someone Else
The ability to try on different identities is one of the attractions of the Internet. It can be fun and liberating, like trying on new clothes or new hair colors or new cosmetics. Try it yourself, and consider if and how your business might want to tap into this liberating energy. Also, learn your way around enough so you'll be aware of how easy it is for people to use false Internet identities to commit fraud and for other malevolent purposes. That might make you a bit more defensively skeptical when meeting new people and potential business associates on line.
For email and other Internet activities, you are known by your user name, which is not necessarily the same as or even in any way connected with your real name. Some services, like CompuServe and Prodigy arbitrarily assign numbers as user names. Most give you a choice of name -- limited only by the need to avoid duplicate addresses. Often the process for signing up for a new service, like chat, is an invitation to masquerade. When you choose your "handle," you can decide whether you want your email address or other information about you to be visible to other participants, and you can decide whether you want to build a new fun identity.
Many people find that masquerading helps them relax and speak their piece, without worrying about what other people may think. It's intoxicating, like a glass or two of wine, removing inhibitions, and encouraging people who under normal conditions might be shy, to let loose.
Try one of the wide-open public chat rooms at Yahoo or another major portals to see how people use anonymity, as a mask behind which they can enjoy flirting or trash talking or just speaking candidly.
Also note that giving everyone the ability to disguise who they are helps avoid prejudice due to age, race, gender, or culture, so ideas can contend on their merits.
Pretending to be Someone Else
By taking on another role, you can also reveal yourself to yourself, finding out what you are willing to say when no one you know need ever know that you said it. Once you get started, there's social pressure to join in the fun -- to let go and depart from your normal behavior and normal expectations of yourself -- to the same degree that others do.
Often, in ordinary life, people put on pretenses both deliberately and from habit. We take it for granted that we have to sort the real from the deceptive in others, and that we too need to shield our "true" selves by playing roles appropriate for the business and social situations that we find ourselves in. We play the same roles day after day, over and over again; and we can easily lose our sense of ourselves as having an identity separate from those roles.
Childhood play often involves trying on fantasy roles, enjoying the illusion of wild adventures without the actual danger, as you gradually build an everyday identity for yourself and test the boundaries between make-believe and reality. As adults, role-play games can still sometimes help us discover aspects of ourselves and of others. Ironically, when we try on artificial roles, we force ourselves to be spontaneous -- no longer able to fall back on habit -- and hence by trying not to be ourselves, we may find ourselves and also may reveal more about ourselves to others than we intended. Perhaps we reveal ourselves the most when most we seek to disguise.
Some sites take this online masquerade to a higher level with "avatars" -- graphic representations of the people visiting a site. Typically, you move your avatar around, like you would a character in a video game, and your online "body language," typically in 3D graphic settings, enhances what you say to one another in text and/or voice chat. Check Moove at www.moove.com/netscape/default.htm. Often much of the traffic at such sites is flirtatious in a matchmaking/dating mode.
For access to more than a dozen 3D virtual worlds in which you can masquerade, check www.digitalspace.com/avatars. If you get really ambitious, you can design (rather than just choose) your own avatars and even build your own 3D worlds. Check http://www.digitalspace.com/avatars/build.html
Avatars can be used in conjunction with chat sessions or as part of elaborate multi-player game environments. Such environments can be fantasy realms for role-play, game-like events; or they can resemble theater experiences where the audience becomes part of the show.
While it has been possible to conduct online meetings for several years now, few companies do so. While text can convey information in a form that can easily be saved and searched for future reference, much of the expressive capability of face-to-face interactions -- facial expression and body language -- is lost. Similarly, with concalls over phone lines, the voices are disembodied. You may know what everybody "said" explicitly, but you may not have confidence that you know what they meant, or how committed they are to what they said. We spend our whole lives learning to read non-verbal clues, learning who to trust and when, and learning how to build trust in ourselves. And we feel uncomfortable when that rich social context gets cut away and all we have is words -- especially if we are dealing with people we've never met face-to-face. In the novel Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson takes avatar development to its logical conclusion, where the online images fully mirror the facial expressions of their "owners" and hence the online world becomes the setting for real business and real social interaction. If that's even possible, it's still a long way off. But the more experience you have in online social interaction, the better you'll learn how to interpret the behavior you encounter online, both for business and for recreation.
Why Online "Community" Matters
Mass broadcast media have eliminated geographic boundaries which previously isolated communities. We feel like we belong to the single vast community presented to us daily in the mass media -- a world so large that the individual is no more than a dust speck. We are part of a mass, undifferentiated, and passive audience. They are supported by advertising which thrives in a huge homogeneous environment, where a single message can predictably elicit a common response from millions of people, as in the quiz show Family Feud, where the right answer is a response that matches the responses of a sampling of the general public. We are rewarded for thinking like everyone else.
Only the people who appear on screen can be known and appreciated, and we in the viewing audience are anonymous, not by choice, but by necessity. We have no connections with one another other than our common experience of the media.
As a side effect, we worship celebrities and pay ridiculously high prices to get near them. And some people commit bizarre acts to attract the attention of the media and hence achieve some level of notorious celebrity themselves.
To maintain a sense of our individuality and self-worth we need to find or create communities that are a manageable size and to which we can feel that we really belong. The Internet makes that possible.
While the Internet is large, connecting tens of millions of people, its effect is quite different from broadcast media. Here there are opportunities to find and interact with others who share our interests, concerns, and view of life. Here we can choose where and how to belong, rather than having that imposed on us by accidents of birth or physical location.
Yes, we see many examples of celebrity worship on the Internet. But here, fans can readily get in touch with other fans, and form among themselves creative and self-affirming communities.
Hence the masquerade anonymity that we
choose for ourselves on the Internet is far different from the
faceless anonymity imposed by broadcast media and a
mass-market society. Our masquerade can be playful and
life-affirming, a way to feel closer to others and to
Don't worry about graphic design. You don't need to be an artist. We'll be dealing here with basic, functional pages consisting almost entirely of text. These pages are easy to create and also easy to find with search engines.
Whenever you use complex techniques to produce fancy graphic effects, you need to weigh the certain costs of such an approach (both the design cost and the added cost of publicity that comes when pages are difficult to find) with the alleged benefits.
Once you make your own Web pages and link them together, you'll be able to submit your pages to search engines and let the world know about them in other ways. We'll cover that effort in Chapter Five. By so doing, you'll begin to understand what your company could do -- what's involved and what kinds of results you could reasonably expect. That should put you in a better position to talk to vendors and technical staff and let them know what you need and why, and to judge what you should pay for tasks related to Web page design and maintenance and publicity.
Required assignment for Chapter Three:
Create Web pages on your PC, without using templates.
Move your pages to your free Web space.
You also signed up at NBCi for a free Web hosting account with unlimited Web space. Go back to NBCi now, and click on "My NBCi", followed by "My Web Site".
On the Internet, expect change and be prepared for it. It is possible that the company that provides the Web space for your site may go out of business or may change its terms in ways that you find unpalatable. As we go through these exercises, always keep copies on your hard drive of every page you create. And keep them organized the same way that they appear on the Web -- in directories set aside for your Web content. Those directories should mirror the structure of your site. In other words, if you create a directory on your Web site called /photos; make sure you have a directory on your PC called \photos, with the same content. That will make it easy for you to move all your pages to a new host if that should ever become necessary. (NB -- the Web uses forward slashes / to indicate where a new directory begins, while Microsoft marches to its own drummer, using back slashes \ instead.)
As a backup for NBCi, consider Tripod, www.tripod.com, which also has lots of useful tools and help and lets you create pages on your PC, without locking you in to their templates.
From the "My Web Site" page at NBCi, click on "Upload your HTML via FTP". By "HTML" they mean the pages that you have created using the Hypertext Markup Language. Actually, you won't be using HTML directly at all. You'll be using common tools like Microsoft Word that mask the underlying complexity. "FTP" stands for "file transfer protocol". That is the common mechanism for moving files from a PC to the Web or from one server on the Web to another. After practicing creating pages for your free NBCi site, you may decide that you really want to build a permanent site on Web space provided by your ISP, or on space that you pay a small amount for each month, with your own domain name. We'll discuss those options in Chapter Four. No matter where you decide to build, you'll want to create your pages on your PC and move them to your Web hosting service using FTP. (The equivalent program for Macintosh is called "fetch.")
FTP lets you move files from your PC to the server (upload) or from the server to your PC (download). It also lets you rename files, create new directories, and delete files and directories. NBCi offers a wide variety of FTP software through their "download center." All of these programs are very similar. WS_FTP is free and easy to use -- start with it. When you are experienced, you might want to try an alternative. I prefer WS_FTP Pro, which costs about $40.
Click on "download center". Then select your system -- e.g., PC. Click on Internet, then on FTP. Then keep clicking on "Next" at the bottom of the page until you come to WS_FTP. Follow the instructions for downloading and installing.
After you've installed the program, go
back to "My NBCi", and click on "My Web Site" and "Upload your
HTML via FTP" again. At the bottom of that page, you'll see
links for ten different tutorials, with simple instructions on
how to use the various flavors of FTP. Click on the one for
WS_FTP_LE. There you'll find important details about the
settings you'll need to connect to your personal Web space and
move files back and forth from there:
Profile Name: My Web Site (any name you choose)
Host Name: ftp.nbci.com
Host Type: Unix (standard)
User ID: Enter your NBCi member name
Password: Enter your NBCi password
You can enter anything you want as the "Profile name," but I'd suggest "NBCi". You may, over time, establish several different Web hosting accounts with different services. This is the nickname that you'll use to identify your FTP connection to your pages at NBCi.
These settings will take you straight to your personal space.
If the Anonymous box is checked, anyone could access your space by FTP, and add, delete, or change pages without your permission. Make sure that box is unchecked, so user ID and password are needed.
If you want your password saved on your PC so you don't have to enter it over and over again, check the "Save Pwd" box. ("Pwd" is UNIX shorthand for "password").
If and when you open an account with another Web hosting service (whether free or paid), you will be able to use this same FTP program to exchange files there. You'll just need to set up a new "profile" with settings provided by the new service.
Note that when you connect to this server, you will be using UNIX; but WS_FTP makes it so you don't need to learn any UNIX commands to do everything that you need to do.
Plain ordinary HTML, which is what we'll be using, is a great equalizer. You can create pages on a Windows PC, a Macintosh, a UNIX workstation, or a Linux PC and move those pages to either a UNIX or a Windows NT server; and they should all work fine, and should be viewable with any browser (Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Netscape, Opera, etc.) Differences start showing up when you get involved with fancy design techniques, but we won't be venturing into that territory.
By the way, most Web hosting services strongly prefer UNIX over Windows NT. Many will charge extra or impose more stringent limits if you insist on using an NT server because of the added cost to them of having to support NT systems.
Today's Web is based on text. Yes, there are interesting audio, video, and graphics there as well, but the heart of the Web is still text. Text is what search engines index, and search engines are the primary way people find Web pages. Plain text pages can be viewed with any browser. They load very quickly. They take up a minimum of disk space. And they involve small data transfers (which could matter if you have a slow connection or are charged for traffic.)
Also, the Web is global, and plain text is easy for your foreign visitors to translate automatically for free through services like babelfish.altavista.com.
Text is also easily accessible by the blind, who use non-graphic browsers and text-to-voice conversion devices.
And text pages are easy to create and edit. You can do it yourself or you can teach other people in your company to do it. No technical skills are required.
Typically, Web-page designers focus on the user experience at a Web site. They pay close attention to the graphic look -- the color, the images, the overall look of each page. They might use advanced techniques to personalize the visitor's experience. They might use design tools that make it easy to manage their pages and that allow for pages to be created on the fly to match a visitor's profile, using a variety of standard elements. They might set up the site so new content gets highlighted on the home page every day, and old content gets moved to an archive area. They typically take pride in pushing the technology to its limits to make their pages as visually attractive and engaging as possible. In so doing, they please their bosses or clients who want their site to be wild and wonderful, visually surpassing the sites of their direct competitors.
But in so doing, they typically overlook the factor that is most important in drawing traffic to a Web site -- search engines. Many operate under the mistaken assumption that search engines just look for "metatags" -- information embedded in the code of a Web page. They think that if they include the right "key words" in their metatags, and if they pay a service to submit their home page to the major search engines, they've done all they need to.
They don't realize that most search engines ignore metatags or give the information included in them very low priority -- less than ordinary text on a page -- because metatags are so subject to abuse. Search engine companies strive to ensure that the pages on their lists of matches to queries actually contain the information that their users are looking for. And metatags are often deliberately misleading -- written by misguided Webmasters, who think that they can get more traffic by fooling search engines than by clearly and accurately representing their content.
They also don't realize that the advanced design techniques, that they take great pride in and charge top dollar for, often block search engines -- reducing the traffic to the Web site, and forcing the site owner to pay more for advertising to bring its traffic up to acceptable levels.
The site they design for you looks great. It includes everything you asked for, and presents it all very well. You feel good when showing it to your boss, your colleagues, your family. But when that beautiful site goes online, nobody comes.
It's as if you designed a beautiful poster and hung it in a closed closet. Nobody finds Web pages based on their looks. The looks of a page have nothing to do with the traffic it draws. A home page is not like the cover of a consumer magazine. It doesn't entice potential customers. People only notice the design AFTER they have come to the page. Something else is needed to get them to come in the first place. That something is content -- plain old useful, meaningful text that is well-indexed by search engines.
In fact, metatags do not matter. Search engines pay no attention to "key words" except for advertising sales. Every word on every page matters, and the more text the better. Also, search engine submission companies typically submit just your home page, and do so once, when, for maximum effect, you should submit each and every new or significantly changed page soon after you post it.
Having more content does not affect your ranking for queries that involve single generic "key" words -- like "computer" or "photography" or "database" -- which may appear on millions of Web pages, and which probably won't bring you any traffic at all. But it does matter for unexpected searches -- when people enter a series of words and phrases that match just what's on your pages. Those are searches by people who really want to find what you have. AltaVista alone receives over 200 million totally unique queries per month. In other words, many people search for rare words and phrases, instead of "key words".
Also, designers typically prefer small Web pages -- no more than you can see on a single screen. They don't like the visitor to have to scroll down a page to see more content. But search engines, like AltaVista, give more weight and relevance to large pages than small ones. And people seeking real information, rather than idlely surfing, prefer one large page that they can easily search and easily print, rather than having to separately load and print multiple little pages.
Designers typically use tools that automatically generate directories inside directories inside directories, and that create long, elaborate linking patterns, where you need to go to this page to get to that one to get to that one... But some search engines give precedence to pages in the topmost directory; and some will only check the pages linked to from the home page or linkned to the page submitted to them, rather than following from link to link to link to find all the pages at a site.
Designers routinely remove old and stale and obsolete content and replace it with what's current. But, on the Web, old content is far more valuable than new content, because it has had time to become a part of the overall Web infrastructure -- included in search engines and directories, included in the bookmarks and favorites of individuals, and linked to by other Web sites. You should never remove a Web page or change its directory or its file name. Simply add text to explain what has changed and provide links to the new pages that have the latest and greatest info.
In other words, if you are responsible for marketing or for the overall business of a Web site, you should not abdicate responsibility for Web site design to professional designers. You need to know what matters to you -- which in many cases is traffic, new visitors, new prospects. And you need to know enough about the value of content on the Internet and how search engines work to set priorities and lay down clear guidelines for the designers.
You want a traffic-oriented Web design, not design for its own sake. You want to help potential customers find your pages. You could care less about winning design awards.
A typical Word document has two names -- the file name and the headline that appears in large type at the beginning of the file. The file name may be arbitrary -- it only exists for your convenience. But the headline might be clever and intriguing, as well as informative, to encourage the visitor to read on.
A Web document has a third name as well -- the "HTML title," which does not appear directly on a Web page, but rather is buried in the header information you see when you click on "View Source Code" in your browser. When you access a Web page, the HTML title appears above the tool bars in your browser in small type. Most people never notice it. But to search engines -- and hence to you as the owner of a Web site -- the HTML title is the most important part of a Web page. When you search, the words in the results list that are highlighted and linked are the words of the HTML title. And the words in the HTML title are also important in determining which pages appear near the top of a search results list. If the query words appear in the HTML title of a page, as opposed to randomly in the ordinary text, that page will go to the top of the list. Hence, the HTML title should say what's most important on the page, simply and clearly, without cleverness.
How you add HTML titles to your pages differs from one authoring tool to another, and even from one version of Word to another. But you should always include an HTML title with every page -- and a different title for every page: one that clearly describes the contents of that page. Don't write these titles in all caps, as you might with a headline. Some search engines are case sensitive, and wouldn't find your all caps page. In general, type the words the way you would expect searchers to enter them in queries -- only capitalizing those letters that are always capitalized.
Some people also like to prefix each of their HTML titles with a common word or phrase that uniquely identifies their site. Doing so will help your pages stand out as a consistent set in bookmark/favorite lists, as well as in search result lists, (e.g., Kensbikes mountain biking tips; Kensbikes fixing bicycle brakes).
You can also create links from one part of a large Web page to another part of the same page. These "internal" links ("bookmarks" in Microsoft-speak) can make it easy for visitors to navigate through large pages with lots of text (the kind of pages that search engines love). You can set them up at the top of the page, as a hyperlinked Table of Contents. Or you can use them to link from a word or phrase to the associated footnote, and back again.
Yes, you can do many more things that are fun and eye-catching. But this is all you need to know to create effective Web pages, pages that people can easily find and easily access from anywhere, with any browser. If you are tempted by flashy effects, play with the templates and automated tools provided at Angelfire, NBCi, and other free Web-hosting sites. You can have pictures galore and animation, and professional-looking effects. Get that urge out of your system where it can't hurt you, on personal pages that are totally separate from the "real" site you are now building to learn about Internet business.
If you have 97 or 2000, you may want to jump ahead. We'll point you back to the steps for the earlier version if and when they still apply.
Word 6.0, Word 7.0 and Word for Windows 95
If you have Word 6.0, Word 7.0 or Word for Windows 95, you first need to get free software from Microsoft that modifies your version of Word so that it treats HTML (Web page format) as just another format. You can create a page as you normally create a Word document, then save it as HTML.
You need the Internet Assistant for Word. The version for Word 6.0, 6.0a, and 6.0c is wordia.exe. The version for Word 7.0 and 7.0a and Word for Windows 95 has file name wdia204z.exe. This free software modifies your version of Word so it can handle the .HTML format of Web pages.
Today, Microsoft hides that file and the directions for download and installation at http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/Q153/8/60.asp
If you do not find it at that location, go to AltaVista (www.altavista.com) and enter the query wdia204z.exe (for Windows 95) or wordia.exe (for Word 6.0) This search should give you a list of alternate pages where you can download that same software patch.
Save the file to a temporary directory (e.g., c:\temp). Close all applications. Click on "Start", then "Run". Click "Browse". Click on the directory in which you saved the file, then on the name of the file that you saved. That name should now appear in the "Run" window. Click "OK" and installation will start.
Open Word and start a new document as you normally do (for instance, by clicking on the blank page icon in the tool bar.) Then click "File" and "Save" As. Create a new directory called "Web" (e.g., c:\web) and save this new (blank) file in that directory. Give this file the name test.htm and save it as file type "HTML document."
When you saving a document in HTML format, the tool bar at the top of the page changes, but you can continue to enter text just as you always did.
As a quick experiment, type your name, then save and close the document. Now open your browser. If you use the IE browser, click "File", then "Open", then "Browse", and go to the directory you just created (e.g., c:\web). Click on the file you named test.htm. If you use Netscape, click on "File", then "Open Page", then "Choose File" to do the same thing. In either case, you should see your new (very sparse page) in your browser.
Now open an existing document in Word, and save a copy of it (in your Web directory) as an HTML document. The software will automatically convert that document to Web format. "Save" and "Close" that file, and take a look at it through your browser.
Whether you start from scratch or convert existing Word documents, give all your Web files a name with .htm as the suffix (not .html). Web browsers can recognize files named with a suffix of either .htm or .html. But this version of Word is limited to file extensions that are just three characters long -- so you have to name your files .htm or you won't be able to edit them properly.
Keep in mind that you are not yet on the Internet. You are viewing your pages locally on your hard drive. No one but you can see what you created.
To get a sense of what HTML code looks like, open one of those pages of yours with your browser again and click on "View", then "Source". In the early days of the Web, people had to enter all this code by hand, and it was slow and tedious to create even the simplest pages. Fortunately, you don't have to go through all that. Click "X" in the upper right corner to close the "View Source" window.
From Word, open test.htm again. Take a
close look at the new command icons in your tool bar. (If you
don't normally use the toolbars, click on "View", then
"Toolbars", and select "Standard" and "Formatting" and then
click on "OK".) Three of these command icons are particularly
important for you:
the letter "i" which stands for the HTML title,
a picture of a chain which is the command for creating hyperlinks, and
a picture of an open book which you use for making internal links ("bookmarks" in Microsoft-speak).
Create a new page, and save it as an HTML document named first.htm. On that new page, type just one word -- test. With your cursor, highlight the word "test". Then click on the chain icon. The word "test" will appear in the box labeled "Text to Display". In the "File or URL" box, enter test.htm Then click "OK".
The word "test" now appears in color, indicating that it is a hyperlink. Click on that link and the page you called test.htm should appear.
Next type the word "first," on the test.htm page, highlight that word with your cursor, click on the chain symbol, and enter first.htm in the "File or URL" box. Click "OK". You should now be able to click back and forth between your two pages.
Open your browser and go to either test.htm or first.htm and click back and forth.
The address you entered is a "relative" address as opposed to a full blown absolute address, such as http://www.anysite.com/testfiles/first.htm When you just provide the file name, your browser knows to look for it in the current directory (the same directory as the page that linked to it.) When you use relative addressing it is easy to check your local links while you are still in Word. It is also easy for you to move all your pages to a new Web hosting service, without changing every link (e.g., from angelfire.com to nbci.com). And if you create presentations using Web pages, instead of PowerPoint (as described in Chapter Four), you'll be able to carry your presentation around on a diskette and use any browser on any computer to show it, without changing a thing.
Create a new page. Save it as an HTML page named start.htm. On that page, enter a list of your favorite Web sites -- perhaps the ones you have saved in your Bookmarks (Netscape) or Favorites (IE). For each site, type the name, highlight that name with your cursor, click on the chain icon, and enter the complete URL (including http:// at the beginning). Save and close that page. Connect to the Internet (if you are not already connected). Now open your start.htm page with your browser, click on the first link in your list. You should go straight to that page (unless you made a typo). Click the Back button in your browser, and check the next link, then the next. If you find any errors, open start.htm in Word and make the necessary edits.
Now open your FTP program and connect to NBCi. On the PC (or local) side of your FTP program open your Web directory (c:\web). Move test.htm, first.htm, and start.htm to your space at NBCi.
Open your browser and enter the full
address for each of these pages, e.g.
The pages you have created are now on the public Web, and anyone you give the address to can use them just as you do.
When making edits to a page and then using your browser to see it again, remember that your browser remembers (caches) the pages it has been to recently, to save time in loading them. When you return to a page, your browser might show you the version that it has saved on your hard drive instead of the newer version that is now on the Web. If you have made a change and don't see the change with your browser, click Reload (Netscape) or Refresh/icon of arrows moving in a circle (IE).
In Word, open start.htm again, and save
it as index.htm. Close the file. Open FTP and upload index.htm
to your Web space at NBCi. Open your browser again and this
time just enter your directory name, e.g.
without the file name. Your page (now named index.htm) should appear. That is your "home page" on the Web. Web servers and browsers typically recognize files named index.htm, index.html, default.htm, and home.htm as "home pages". If such a page exists, that's the one you go to when you enter a Web address without an explicit file name.
Once again, open index.htm in Word. Now click on the "i" icon. (As an alternative, click File, then Properties). Enter the words that you'd like to serve as your HTML title. Try to make these words useful.
For instance, if most of the links on your page relate to horse racing or auctions or baseball or investing, say so -- e.g., "best investing sites and other favorite links". Save, close, and upload to NBCi. Open in your browser. You should see those words in small type at the top of the screen, above the browser tool bar. Click on View, then Page Source. Near the top of the page, in the "Header" section, you should see your words sandwiched between the code <title> and </title>.
Open index.htm again. Now, at the bottom of the page enter your name (or your Web-pen name) and one of your email addresses. Highlight that email address with your cursor, click on the chain icon, and in the URL box enter mailto: followed by the address, e.g. mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Save that file, then open it as a local file in your browser, and click on the link for your email address. As a test, send yourself a message.
Now, we're going to experiment with creating internal links. First, add a dozen more favorite sites to your list in index.htm and make them hyperlinks. Then organize that list, inserting subheads -- e.g., games, business, etc. -- and put a list of the subheads at the top of your page.
Microsoft uses the word "bookmark" to mean internal links, or links to locations within the same page. That's confusing for people who use Netscape as a browser, and think of "bookmarks" as saved links to pages you'd like to go back to (which Microsoft calls "favorites").
To create an internal link, click once at the point in the document you would like return to easily -- in this case at a subhead. Then click on the open book icon, (or click "Edit", then "Bookmark") and type an arbitrary name (one word, consisting of letters, not numbers), and click on "Add". Then highlight the words that you want to make the link from -- the appropriate item in the list of subheads at the top of your page. Click on the chain icon, and enter the name of your "bookmark" in the line labeled "Bookmark Location in File:" Click "OK". Save the file. Click on the link you just made, and you should go straight to that subhead. Experiment some more, if you like -- making internal links to all your subheads, checking how they work in Word. Then save and upload the file and see how the new links work in your browser.
Open that file in your browser to see what it looks like now. Many features should appear as before. But the spacing in the fonts are probably different. HTML ignores spaces. If you have two carriage returns between paragraphs in Word, HTML will reduce that to one. If you put two spaces after a period or if you used a series of spaces instead of Tabs to line up words on successive lines, HTML will reduce all those spaces to one space. Tabs may or may not come out as you intended. Columns probably won't line up.
You are seeing evidence of a clash of philosophies. Microsoft proceeds on the assumption that the provider of content should have complete control over how that content should be displayed. The Web is built on the assumption that the receiver of the information should be able to control the formatting, based on the technical capabilities of the local computer (such as screen size) and also personal preferences. In this early authoring tool, Microsoft compromised, leaving some aspects of page presentation up to the discretion of the user. By Word 2000, Microsoft took complete control, generating enormous quantities of complex code that force Web browsers to present documents with all formatting in tact -- regardless of whether that formatting is of any importance to the creator of the documents.
You do not have to start with a Word document and convert it to HTML to take advantage of these formatting features (like bold, italic, and underlining). You can create a new HTML page and use the familiar command icons to add those features directly as you normally do. Just highlight the target words and click on the icon.
Justified right, centering, bullets, numbered bullets, and horizontal lines should all work the same in HTML format as they do in Word document format. I'm a big fan of horizontal lines as dividers in Web pages -- just position the cursor where you'd like the divider, then click on the dark horizontal line in the toolbar. For special symbols like ?, ?, or Greek and mathematical symbols, click on "Insert", then on "Symbol", and make your choice.
You can also change fonts and type size -- but, in this version of Word, what you choose is not necessarily what someone will see with a Web browser. For instance, a headline is another form of "Style". Highlight the target text, click "Format", then "Style". Experiment to see what your default settings give you for Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3. Save your file with samples of each of those headings in place. Then open the file with your browser. The font and the type size will probably be different. The code that this version of Word generates provides the Web basics -- that you wanted a Level 1 or 2 or 3 headline. The settings in the user's browser determines how a Level 1 or 2 or 3 headline is displayed.
With this version of Word, don't try to convert tables or footnotes or other advanced formatting features. They probably won't turn out anything like what you intended, and they may make your page unviewable. Keep everything as simple as possible, and you'll be able to make and edit Web pages very quickly and easily.
If you are sorely tempted to add a picture or two, go ahead. Save the image files (in .jpg or .gif format) in the same directory as your Web pages (c:\web). Click at the place in the Web page where you would like the picture to appear. Then click on the icon which is a picture of a mountain. In the box "Image Source:" enter the name of the image file. Click "OK". The picture should immediately appear at the place in the page that you indicated.
(When you upload the page, be sure to upload the associated images to the same directory on the Web.)
If you'd like to change the image's
position or size, click again on the image icon, then on the
"Options" tab. There you can change the "Alignment with Text:"
from "Default" to "Left", "Right", or "Top". And you can
experiment entering various numbers for the "Height" and
"Width", and also add a border. If you want to do much more
with graphics, this isn't the right tool for you. You should
get a book on HTML or take a course on it. Creating beautiful
pages with fancy visual effects can be an interesting hobby --
but has little to do with using the Web for business, which is
the subject of this book.
Word for Office 97
If you have Word for Office 97, you do not have to download and install a patch. Web-page authoring is already included in your software. But while you can edit a page created with Word for Windows 95 in 97, you cannot edit one from 97 in 95.
All the functions we discussed above are available to you. But Microsoft has moved them around, and buried the more important ones, so it's not always easy to find what you want. Please follow all the steps mentioned above, following the directions below to help you find the necessary commands.
If you have Word for Office 97, either open an existing document or start a new document and save it as HTML Document, with either .htm or .html as the file extension. (This version of Word can handle four-letter extensions).
The tool bar changes, but this time only one of the three key commands has its own icon -- a chain link superimposed on a globe stands for the hyperlink command.
To assign an HTML title, click "File", then "Properties", then enter the title on the "Title:" line, and click "OK".
To create an internal link ("bookmark"), click once at the point on the document that you would like to be able to mark, then click on "Insert", then "Bookmark", enter the name (one word, consisting of letters, not numbers), and click "Add".
To create links, highlight the text that you want people to click on. Then click on the chain/globe icon, and enter the file name if the page will be in the same directory as the page you are creating, or the full URL (such as http://www.samizdat.com/start.html) if the page will be somewhere else. If you want to link to another place in the same page, in the line labeled "Named location in file" enter the name of the "Bookmark" you created, or click "Browse" and select that bookmark from the list you see. Click OK. To link to an email address, enter mailto: followed by the address.
If, like me, you don't like that "feature", you can shut it off by clicking on Tools, then Autocorrect, then under the tab for "Autoformat as You Type," remove the check mark next to "Internet and network paths with hyperlinks" under "Replace as you type," and under the tab for "Autoformat" also remove the check mark next to "Internet and network paths with hyperlinks" under "Replace".
When you save a page ("File", "Save as"), the second item in the drop down menu of file types is "Web page (.htm, .html)". Be sure to give your document a file name with either .htm or .html as the extension.
To create an HTML title, click on "File", then "Properties", and under the "Summary" tab enter your title on the "Title" line and click "OK".
To create an internal link, first click at the place in the text you want to mark, then click "Insert", "Bookmark", and enter the name (one word, just letters, no numbers).
To create links, highlight the text to be linked, then click on the link/globe icon. Your selected text should appear in the top line ("Text to display"). To link to a Web page, you can enter that address in the line marked "Type file or Web page name," or click on an address that you have used in the past in the list that appears, or, if you have a live connection to the Internet, click on "Web page..." That last option will launch your Web browser. Go to the page that you want to link to, minimize that browser window, and the URL of that page will automatically appear in the URL box (that's a good way to avoid typos when linking to pages with long URLs). To link to a location in the same document (bookmark), highlight the words where you want the link to start (for instance in a table of contents), click on the link icon, then "Bookmark" (on the right), then click on the name of the bookmark which you have assigned to the target location. To create a link to an email address, click on the link icon, then click on "Email Address" in the lower left corner, then either type in the address (and the software will automatically add "mailto:") or click on an address from the list of suggestions.
Follow the instructions for Step Two above, with the exception that this version of Word lets you name files with either .htm or .html as the suffix.
You can get a sense of what the code looks like right in Word (without having to use your browser). Just click on View and HTML source. You'll see at least a couple of screens full of code.
Whereas before, with a rudimentary familiarity with HTML, you could "View Source" and make some minor adjustments in the code. Now that's virtually impossible, unless you are a pro. And once you've edited a page with Word 2000, you've rendered it totally useless in Word for Office 97 or 95.
If you take a Web page that was created in Word for Windows 95 or Word for Office 97 and open and save it with Word 2000, even if you don't change a single word, the new file will be nearly twice as big as the old one, because of all the extra code that Word 2000.
In fact, if you create a new page in Word 2000, leave it blank, and save it as an HTML file, that totally empty page will take up 29 Kbytes of space with just the code that Word automatically generates.
The main purpose of this code appears to be to strictly dictate exactly how a page will appear in a Web browser. The code overrides the basic Web setup of allowing the user to choose certain aspects of the look-and-feel. Instead, you, as the creator of the page, decide the font, the type size, the style of the headings, etc.
One of the side effects of this strict regimen is that if you open a page created with another Web authoring tool or even with another version of Word in Word 2000, and if that page does not strictly conform to Word 2000's rules, you won't be able to see the page much less edit it. You will only be able to proceed if you open the page in WordPad, instead of Word, and detect and remove the offending code. Then you can go back to Word and edit the page as normal. That, however, is a daunting task, unless you are very familiar with HTML code. If at all possible, you should not attempt to use Word 2000 to edit pages that were created in earlier versions of Word or with any other Web authoring software.
Recent browsers are very "forgiving." They recognize and automatically correct for common mistakes in coding. The visitor sees just what the page creator intended, even if the page creator accidentally strayed from the strict rules of the game. Word 2000 is totally unforgiving.
Follow the instructions in Step Four above, but this time enter complete, absolute URLs instead of relative ones. Relative links don't work in Word 2000. The software gets confused between Microsoft-style back slashes \ and Web-style forward slashes / It seems to assume that your main purpose is to link together documents on your hard drive, rather than to create pages for the Web. It presumes that the files you create will continue to reside in the directory where it is now, and it automatically inserts back slashes \.
Also, with Word 2000, you have three
choices for entering the URL of the page you want to link to:
Type the complete, absolute address, beginning with http:// in the box labeled "Type the file or Web page name:"
Click on an address that appears in the box under "Or select from list:"
On the right, click on "Web page". That will launch your browser. Go to the page that you want to link to. Then close your browser. The URL of the last page you touched with your browser should automatically appeared in the box "Type the file or Web page name:"
Do Step Five as described above.
In Step Six, note that with Word 2000 you enter the HTML title by clicking on File, then Properties.
In Step Seven, creating a link to an email address, after clicking on the link icon, click on "Email address" in the left column. Then when you start typing the address, the software will automatically add "mailto:".
For internal links in Step Eight, click on the spot on the text that you want to mark (return to), then click "Insert" and "Bookmark" and give the mark a name. Then to make a link to that spot, highlight the text you want linked, click on the chain icon, then click on "Bookmark" in the right column. The name you gave the bookmark should appear on the list of choices. Click on it. Then click OK and OK again.
If you want to insert a picture, beware. The logical procedure (Insert, then picture, then from File, and select the file name) succeeds in putting a picture into the document on your hard drive. But the picture will not appear on your page once you upload it to the Web -- even if you upload the image to the same directory.
Word 2000 automatically creates a new directory for you. If you name your file test.html, it creates a directory named test_files and automatically puts all the images associated with that page in that new directory, automatically naming those images in numerical order. To make the images appear in your Web pages as you intended, you will have to create a directory on your Web site with that same name (e.g. /test_files) and upload all the image files from the equivalent directory on your hard drive. If you are making many Web pages, that becomes very complicated very quickly. It also means that when you are using the same image on many different pages, you have to upload many different copies of that same image to different directories on your Web server. In addition, it means that the names of your images are simply numbers, with no meaning, making them virtually impossible to find with search engines.
As an alternative (if you really must
include pictures on your pages), in Word, click View, then
HTML Source, then click Edit and Find and enter the words that
are nearest to the place in your page where you'd like the
picture to appear. At that point type: <img
For instance, <img scr="http://members.nbci.com/jones5/frog.gif">
using the absolute Web address for where you are going to upload that file, rather than the relative address (just the file name). But that's an awful lot of work to accomplish something that was very simple with the earlier versions of Word.
On the positive side, if you love all the fancy formatting features that are built into Word, you'll love the kinds of Web pages you can create with Word 2000. Even footnotes convert easily and automatically, all appearing at the end of the page, automatically generating links from the footnoted point in the text to the footnote itself and then back again to that same point in the text.
Once installed, launch the program, then in the toolbar click on "Communicator", then "Composer". That opens a blank page. Simply type your text.
Some commands have different names and are tucked away in different places, as noted in the following paragraphs, but everything you need to do to follow the steps listed above for Word, you can do with Netscape Composer.
To add a hyperlink, highlight the associated text, and click on "Link" in the Toolbar. Then type the file name (for relative addressing, when the page you are connecting to will reside in the same directory as this page), or the complete URL.
To make a headline, highlight the target text, and click on "Format", "Heading", and the number you wish. (1 is largest).
To give the page an HTML title, click on "File", then "Publish". Enter the file name, and the HTML title. In the box "HTTP or FTP location to publish to" enter http://members.nbci.com Then click OK. You'll get an error message that the Web server doesn't accept uploads in this way. That doesn't matter. You have given the file a HTML title.
To create an internal link. Click at the place in the document that you would like to connect to, and click on "Target" in the toolbar. Enter a name for this "target" (equivalent of Microsoft's "bookmark"). Highlight the text that you would like to link to this spot, and click on "Link", and select the target name from the list. Click "OK".
You can pick the type size and either leave the type style as "variable width" (the default, meant to help the text appear best on a wide variety of machines with different size screens), or pick a specific font.
For bold, italic, or underlining, highlight the text you want to change, and click on the various capital A's in the toolbar.
For bullets and numbered bullets, highlight the text and click on the corresponding icons.
The default for text alignment is flush left. Highlight the text you want to change, click on the alignment icon (far right on the bottom) and your other choices (centered and flush right) will appear for you to click on.
To add a picture, click to indicate where in the page you would like it, then click on "Image" in the tool bar and either enter the file name (relative addressing) or the complete URL of the image file (where it will be after you upload it). You have a variety of choices for how you want your image to appear.
To see the code that this program has created, click "View", then "Page Source". You'll note that the file is very small, with very little code -- comparable to what you get with the early versions of Word, and very different from the monstrosities generated by Word 2000.
Click "File" and "Save As", and save this page in your Web directory (c:\web). Then use FTP to upload this file and any associated images to your Web server (at members.nbci.com). Launch your browser and go to that page to check it.
In this chapter, first we'll consider whether -- given all the work you are going to put into this -- you might want to start your real site with your own domain name and a Web hosting service where you are likely to want to stay with for the long run.
Then we'll provide suggestions regarding the kind of Web site you might want to build and how to generate content for it.
Then we'll step you through an exercise of creating a Web-style presentation or converting a PowerPoint presentation to Web-style, as an example of how to link a series of pages into a coherent whole. And we'll give detailed advice on how to make your site easy for visitors to find and easy for them to navigate once they get there.
Create a presentation in Web-style format, as practice in how to assemble Web pages into a complete site.
Build a small Web site.
But you might want the work that you are doing in this bootcamp to count as more than just an exercise. You might want to build a site that has a useful purpose, that you'll be motivated to keep adding to and improving -- for personal reasons, as a community service, or for business. If that is the case, now is the time to get your own domain name, and sign up for Web space that you pay for.
Once you have your own domain name, moving from one hosting service to another is relatively painless. All your links from one of your pages to another should work just as well in the new place, and visitors get to you by entering the same URLs or clicking on the same links.
But as long as you are using someone else's domain name, like members.nbci.com/jones5, all your links and all your traffic are tied to that name, and moving can be very time-consuming and can throw away much of the hard work you've done in building traffic.
You might also want to move to paid
space with your own domain name in order:
to have a name people will remember and that you can be proud of,
to avoid having someone else's ads served up with your pages, and
to reduce the likelihood that your hosting service going out of business or changiing its rules might undermine what you are trying to accomplish.
Fortunately, today, the prices for some professional Web hosting services are quite low. I use and am very pleased with Hispeed.com. They currently charge $19.95/month for a virtual domain account (one with my own domain name), with unlimited Web space and unlimited traffic. For another couple dollars a month, I can serve up audio and video files. (We'll talk about audio and video in Chapter Eleven). They also provide support 24 hours a day, seven days a week by way of a toll-free phone number. To check out other options, see TheList www.thelist.com, which has a massive list of Internet service providers and Web hosts, with their prices and terms.
When shopping for a service, you want the ability to create pages on your own, without templates and without databases. Beware of page creation "wizards". You want to be in control of what you create and how it looks both to individuals and to search engines. You also want to be able to transfer files to the Web server using FTP from your PC or Fetch from your Macintosh.
If you decide on a paid Web hosting service, before signing up, reserve your domain name.
More than half a dozen services now sell "new" domain names. The original service, Network Solutions www.networksolutions.com makes it easy for you to search to see if the name you want is available. Today they charge $35/year for a name that ends in .com They also sell "used" names -- ones that others have signed up for but are not now using. And other services like Great Domains www.greatdomains.com specialize in acting as a go-between connecting sellers and buyers of domain names. During the dot-com boom, many people bought names with no intention of ever using them, in hopes of reselling at a vastly inflated prices. Hence, it was getting very difficult to find any pronounceable and memorable set of letters and/or numbers that wasn't already taken. Now many of those names have been abandoned and are available again, or are up for sale at bargain prices. In addition, new suffixes have been added, beyond the basic .com, .org., .net, .gov, and .edu. The new ones include .tv, .cc., and .ws, with still more to come. Try names that you could be proud of and that visitors are likely to remember and to associate with the kind of site you are trying to build. Longer names are more likely to be available than short ones.
Once you have "bought" the domain name
you want, contact the Web hosting service you have chosen, and
ask them to step you through the process of signing up for
their service and providing the domain name company with the
technical information they need to activate your domain name
Now, what am I going to write about?
You have Web space, and you know how to create Web pages. That's like having chalk and a blackboard, a stack of paper and a pen, wood and nails and empty space to build something on. What are you going to do with this opportunity?
You could build a site devoted to your family, your hobby, your club, a business you've always wanted to build, a family-member's team, a family-member's business, a community or non-profit organization, etc. What matters is that you create a set of pages, each of which does a necessary job, and all of which work together to produce results. To do so with the dedication and persistence necessary to really learn fundamental Internet business skills, you to believe in and care about the content and goal of your site. You need to be able to get personal satisfaction from what you do and positive feedback from people you respect. You can't expect to maintain the necessary level of involvement, to make time for this activity again and again, just because you think you should. It has to be self-reinforcing; it has to become second nature, so you don't consider it work. Working on your Web site should be like breathing and eating to you. It has to become part of who you are you and who you are proud to be.
Also, try to pick a topic that others will want to help you generate content for. If you try to do everything yourself, no matter how motivated you are, sooner or later you'll simply burn out.
For example? I have a separate number of areas within my Web site, any one of which could grow into a site of its own.
Are you involved with a local service organization or a charity? Might your church or your daughter's Little League team need a Web site?
Does your town or local community have a Web site? If not, you might consider teaming up with several neighbors to build one. You could each sign up for your own free Web space, each manage your space separately -- with responsibility for a clearly defined beat. You agree on a common look and feel for your pages and link back and forth to one another. You each encourage volunteers to help you gather and update useful information. With dedication, creativity, and team work, you could make a free site that rivals in usefulness sites that cost millions of dollars a year to operate.
I also posted a list of the books that Tim has read, as an incentive for him to read more. And now he has begun to write and post his own pages -- including suggestions for videogames to be based on quidditch (from the Harry Potter books) and on the cartoon TV series Gundam Wing.
Do you have a family member or a friend who has strong interests and a willingness to provide you with a steady flow of fresh content -- perhaps reactions to books or movies or music, along with frequently updated lists of favorites?
An old friend, Claude Thau, decided to start his own business as a consultant about long-term care insurance. So I posted his marketing documents and related articles of his at my site, as a way for him to reach new prospects. See www.samizdat.com/thau
Do you have friends or relatives with small businesses or hobbies that could benefit from pages on the Web?
My son Mike (the same one who was born
with cleft-lip/cleft-palate), is a student at Northeastern and
a novelist. He is now writing his third novel. I've posted
samples of his writing at my Web site to help him build an
audience and get feedback. See www.samizdat.com/window1.html
I'd like to post more, but he still hopes for immediate
success from the traditional publishing establishment and is
reluctant to give anything of his away for free.
've also posted:
a complete novel by Roberta Kalechofsky, "Orestes in Progress". See www.samizdat.com/micah/orestes.html
a book of poetry and photos by Diane Croft, now being revised and soon to be posted again at www.samizdat.com/croft.html
a story, a novel excerpt, and photos of paintings by Rex Sexton. See www.samizdat.com/sexton
stories by novelist Zak Mucha. See www.samizdat.com/mucha
a book of literary criticism about Gogol by Laszlo Tikos, a former professor of mine. See www.samizdat.com/gogol.html
moves of all the tournament chess games of my chess champion son, Bob Seltzer. See www.samizdat.com/chess.html
I also helped Jeremy Josephs, a freelance writer in France, add hundreds of his own articles to his own Web site, as a way to attract more traffic and, hopefully, generate more writing assignments. See www.jeremyjosephs.com/sitemap.html [no longer online]
Do you have a friend of relative who is an author? Published authors often have older material for which the rights have reverted to them, and also may have boxes full of interesting material that has never been published. You could either post their material at your site, or help them build their existing site, using their site to experiment with the principles in this book.
You might assemble lists of movies seen, music enjoyed, baseball cards collected, books read -- anything that might be of interest to your target audience. If your site is related to an organization, start with a list of members. If a school, lists of students, faculty, alumni/alumnae, and benefactors. If a team, the team members and the league and standings and practice times and personal stats. (For a good example of a volunteer site devoted to a hockey team check The Acton Boxboro Youth Hockey Association at www.abyha.org, built by Fred Isbell.) Whenever relevant, add links and email addresses to items in these lists.
Build lists of related and favorite Web sites, using search engines, like Google and AltaVista, to locate them.
Then begin to annotate your lists with your own comments and comments emailed to you by those who have seen your pages. If you enjoy writing or if someone collaborating with you in this project enjoys writing, then expand these notes to full-fledged reviews and/or diary-like accounts of your experiences.
If you have young children who are an important part of your life, consider including a personal narrative of your experiences as a parent, with related photos. See www.sitecoach.com/mcdonald for Alex McDonald's account of dealing with triplet boys at the "terrible twos" stage.
Depending on your topic and audience,
you might want to include notes on:
recipes and restaurants.
family and genealogical notes, with autobiographical contributions from family members
religious revelations and inspirational thoughts
tributes to and memories of friends and relatives.
Don't hold back. Post anything and everything that's of interest to you and might be of interest to your target audience. Invite people to send you feedback and suggestions. When they do email you, email back immediately, and request permission to post the best of these messages at your site. If they say yes, don't procrastinate -- post the new content immediately (acknowledging the source), at the end of the documents that they are reacting to. For an example of how this kind of dialogue can snowball, giving you lots of good new content, check my article "Why Bother to Save Halloween?" at www.samizdat.com/halloween.html, which has generated dozens of interesting replies, and draws thousands of people to my site each year.
If you have children in school, consider posting their best school work on your Web site as a way of showing that you are proud of them.
If volunteers are helping you with your Web site or are helping an organization that you are supporting with your Web site, post profiles and photos of these people.
Many people are motivated more by their
need for recognition than by money. Use your site liberally to
provide the kind of recognition that your helpers and your
loyal audience appreciate. Highlight the best emails received
-- use your Web pages to reward any activity that you want to
encourage more of.
There are exceptions when someone pays you to write something or when you do the writing as part of your regular job. Then your writing could be considered "work for hire", and the person paying you owns it. If you have any doubts, check your company's personnel policies or the contract under which you did the work. If you still have doubts, consult a lawyer. But in most instances, the ownership should be clear.
Registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office establishes proof that by such-and-such a date you had created such-and-such work. That proof can help you win penalities from people who use your material without permission. For details about copyright and to get registration forms, check the Library of Congress site at http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright
When you write a message -- whether a paper letter or an email -- you own the words in that message. No one else has the right to do anything else with it than read it, without your explicit permission. That's why you should ask for permission before posting email messages from others on your site.
But when people communicate with one another, they do so in a context that includes certain expectations. When you send an email message, you know that the recipient might choose to print that message for convenience, and might also forward it to others. That's common practice. But to take that message and reproduce it in another medium (e.g., printing it in a book or putting it on a Web page) is, at best, questionable. It's not so much a question of the author expecting compensation, as the fact that the author might deem the message is changed by the new context. He might not want his message used as an example of bad grammar in a textbook, or subjected to ridicule on a Web site run by people with an opposing viewpoint. Or maybe the message was personal, meant only for the eyes of the recipient, or was written rashly and in haste, and the author now regrets having written it at all. In any case, the author should be the person judging what use is appropriate or inappropriate.
Likewise, if someone posts a message in a forum or message board on the Web, by so doing that person is saying that it is okay for that message to be available for the public to read from that site, with its unique context. But if you wanted to publish such postings in a different medium -- such as, including them in a printed book -- you would need to ask each and every author for permission to do so. Even though the material sits on your site, the rights to that content still belong to the people who wrote it.
These same rules apply to the physical world. If someone sends you a paper letter, you own the paper and have the right to read it. But the content of the letter still belongs to the person who wrote it. You do not have the right to publish as a book a collection of letters sent to you, unless you get the permission of the authors. Likewise, you don't have the right to post on the Web the contents of paper letters sent to you.
On the other hand, copyright only applies to the expression of ideas, not to the ideas themselves. To react to someone's ideas (whether spoken or published), you often need to restate them. And you have the right to uniquely express a thought that originated with someone else. In that case, as a matter of courtesy, as well as intellectual integrity, you should credit the person who, to the best of your knowledge, first came up with the idea.
Also, when people send you email and give you permission to post those messages at your site, you should be careful about editing those messages. Yes, you are acting in a way similar to a newspaper that publishes "letters to the editor", and it is common to correct spelling and grammatical mistakes and to include just excerpts, rather than the full message. But as a matter of courtesy and policy, you should be careful when judging what part of a message was intended to be personal and what part is appropriate to make public. You shouldn't edit items in such a way as to distort their meaning. And you shouldn't put such messages into an unnatural context that distorts their meaning. The people who send you email and give you permission to post those messages are your natural friends and allies -- they can help build traffic to your site and bring customers to your business. Avoid offending them.
How can you get the experience you need right away?
Start with a presentation that you've already written or write one explaining the purpose of the new Web site you plan to build. Your new presentation will consist of a series of short text HTML pages, linked together in series, and with links to examples on the Web. Building your presentation this way will give you a feel for how you can build your Web site and may generate new ideas on how you might want to use your site. You also might want to use this technique for presentations you do for work.
We're all tired of seeing the same old PowerPoint clipart again and again. We're tired of presentations that proceed linearly -- starting at slide number one and going through slide after slide to the last one. We're annoyed by presentations that take up many megabytes of disk space, that are so big they clog and crash email inboxes, and that are too big to fit on a diskette, so you have to carry your laptop to the meeting.
If the presentation already exists as a PowerPoint file, extract the text and only the text.
In this case, because you are going to be showing the sequence of Web pages to a live audience just as you might show PowerPoint slides, you want the full text of each page to be visible on a single screen, without having to scroll down, rather than making large pages (as I recommend repeatedly elsewhere).
Therefore, you should organize your text so each "slide" (Web page) consists of a headline and 3-6 bulleted items.
Use the same headline style for the headlines on every page. (I use Headline 1). And use a smaller, but easy to read headline style for the bulleted items. (I use Headline 3 for that).
Each page include brief text that explains the context -- so someone starting at this slide would know what it is part of.
You also should give each page its own unique HTML title (which will come in handy if and when you submit this presentation to search engines).
Keep your text short and crisp -- one line for each item, if possible. Separate each line with carriage returns. (Since you are using headlines, bullets won't work -- those styles are normally incompatible in Word).
Use horizontal lines to separate the headlines from the main text.
If you have informative illustrations (not just clip art), link from the related text to the image file. Then, when delivering the presentation, you can click on that link if you decide to show the picture.
At the bottom of each page, have links for "Next" and "Previous, and also a link to your title page, which should list major sections of the presentation, with links to the first page of each. That way, based on audience reaction, you can change directions -- go straight to a side sequence, or skip ahead quickly. Make all the links by providing just the file name (relative addressing), to make your presentation portable (so you can put it on a diskette or load it onto someone else's computer and the links among your pages will all work). Name all the files with .htm as the file extension, to be compatible with older software. If you might at times want to go into greater detail on one or more points, depending on audience reaction, then make a link from the related text to a separate sequence of pages, and from the last one, link back to that starting point.
If you are going to have a live Internet connection when you make the presentation, then link directly from your text to examples on the Web. If you know you will not have a live connection, then do screen captures of the example pages, using a program like PaintShop Pro, save those images on your hard disk, and link to those image files.
Set up your last page as a list of related resources for follow up, including your contact information.
Save all the slides and images for a given presentation alone in the same directory. You should be able to view your presentation, with all the links among the slides working, in both Word and from your browser.
Presentations done in this style take up very little space. An ordinary diskette could hold a presentation that lasts five hours or more. You can deliver the presentation using a browser, from a hard drive, from a diskette, or from a Web site. You don't need to worry about whether the machine at the meeting site has the same version of PowerPoint that you do, or even uses the same version of Windows that you do. If your files are available at a Web site, you can use any computer (Mac, UNIX workstation, Linux PC, or Windows PC) for delivery; and your audience can easily review your slides or show them to others later, at their own convenience.
You can also point colleagues to the URL of the first slide, and they could go through it when they please, without having to use email or download anything. You could even have a concall with everybody connecting to the same Web-based presentation and clicking through it together, even though you are thousands of miles apart.
Such presentations can have many optional branching paths, and alternate examples, giving you the opportunity to digress and ad lib, with style, even following links on Web pages that you selected as examples.
By doing this exercise, you can learn a new way of creating business presentations in general. At the same time, you get experience and insight into how to create simple Web pages and link them together in a Web site.
As an example of a presentation of this
kind, check a speech/tutorial about search engines that I
recently created at, starting at
Make navigation easy for people and for robots
Keep in mind that you created that presentation not just for you to deliver it face-to-face, but also for posting on the Web, where visitors could check out pieces at their convenience and in the order that met their personal interests.
In putting it together, you followed design instructions by rote. You put links on every page of your presentation -- not just links to the "Next" slide, but also links to the title page, and from the title page to the start of each major section.
You also included a clear explanation of the context on each and every page, so someone looking at any slide would know what the presentation was about.
The slides themselves had the simplest possible design, consisting of text, with no decoration and no special effects.
You gave each page an HTML title.
Now let's take a look at the principles behind these instructions.
Pages at some sites resembled the old Burma Shave ads on highways -- each page providing a small piece of a message that made little or no sense out of sequence. Other sites were more like branching adventure stories -- providing one element of the story, then a couple of choices, then a little more information and a couple more choices. Visitors proceeded through a maze of hallways, opening one door after another.
Search engines wrecked that model.
Thanks to search engines, people now come to the specific page that has the content that matches their query, regardless of where that page happens to be at a Web site. To search engines, all pages are equal. There is nothing special about a home page. People now come in through the back door, the basement, and the windows. In other words, search engines changed the basic principles by which you should design your Web site.
Every page is a potential entry point for visitors. So every page should be able to stand on its own, clearly stating its context and purpose and providing helpful navigation buttons (hyperlinks that take the visitor to other key pages at your site.)
Clicking is not a pleasurable activity; it's a means to an end. And navigating through a Web site shouldn't be like finding your way through a maze. Keep it simple.
Also, don't put the bulk of your effort into designing your home page when most of your visitors won't see it first, and some of them will never see it at all.
On the one hand, you can't afford to compete with sites like that on their own terms. On the other hand, you shouldn't want to, because you can do much better, providing real benefit to your visitors -- at much less cost.
The expensive and flashy techniques used by such sites (e.g., databases, frames, dynamic pages, and pages behind sign-in/registration forms) unintentionally block search engines, sacrificing all the traffic that might have come their way, at no cost, if all their content had been indexed.
The pages that web crawlers fetch also include links to other pages, and the crawlers follow that trail of links. Pages to which there are no links are never found. Pages that have many links to them are visited more often than pages with few links to them.
Hence the links among the pages at your site not only make it easy for visitors to navigate, they also provide a trail for search engine web crawlers to follow. If it takes very few clicks to go from any page at your site to any other, that makes it more likely that web crawlers, randomly following links, will find all your pages.
The most important text on a page is the HTML title
As noted before, search engines give high priority to the content in HTML titles. If words matching a query appear in the HTML title of a page, that page will usually go to the top of the list of matches, beating out pages where those words are anywhere else. If you neglect to give your pages HTML titles, or don't make those titles clear, unique, and meaningful, you are throwing away potential traffic.
With this activity, you will begin to build an audience, developing relationships with people who, before, had been total strangers to you. You should pay careful attention to their feedback, and seek new ways to help them and meet their needs. In so doing, you can build online people skills that are important for success in any online business.
Remember that although your site is now public, you still have the ability to change any page any time you want, and very quickly. These pages are yours -- not subject to corporate rules. Experiment freely. If you make a mistake -- and you almost certainly will make many -- take the page down and post a new version. Dare to try new things -- that's the only way you'll learn.
use AltaVista to send "secret" messages
Yahoo has a paid staff of editors who review submissions from Web site owners. The Open Directory has thousands of volunteers doing the same work. Both now include over a million sites each.
You can navigate a Web directory by clicking from menu to menu, making one selection after another until you finally get to the level where sites of the kind you are interested in are listed. That approach can be handy if you are looking for information in yellow-pages style, thinking in terms of a category of information, rather than something specific.
You can also search through the database that contains the descriptions of all of them.
Most major search engines have partnered with one or another of the major directories. When you click on the name of a category, rather than entering words in a query box, you are using their directory capability.
A directory takes you to the home page of a Web site, from which point you can explore to eventually get to what you want.
A search engine takes you to the very page on which the words and phrases you are looking for appear.
You should use a directory when you only have a vague idea of what you want, and when you would appreciate prompts to guide you.
You should use a search engine when your aim is to get to a particular piece of information quickly.
Use a directory for the kinds of things you'd expect to find in the Yellow Pages -- for businesses of certain kinds when you may not know the names of the businesses.
Use a search engine when you are looking for information about a particular product and know the product name and model number, but may not know the manufacturer.
Use a directory to see a list of sites devoted to alternative medicine or to cancer.
Use a search engine to learn more about a medicine your doctor just prescribed for you.
(For a detailed discussion of the differences, strengths, and weaknesses of directories and search engines see http://www.samizdat.com/dir.html)
While Yahoo is a well-known brand, few people have heard of Open Directory. But the Open Directory is embedded in the directory results of many popular search sites. Both are very important, and you can submit your information to both of them for free.
Go http://docs.yahoo.com/info/suggest and http://dmoz.org In both cases, you'll be asked to scan through the available categories (which are amazingly detailed), pick where you think you belong, and write a description a few sentences long. Keep in mind that that description will apply for your entire site, whether it consists of one page or ten thousand pages -- so choose your words carefully and with an eye on the direction in which you want your site to evolve.
Try tailor your description for both the needs of the directory and also your target audience. You don't want your listing to look the same as hundreds of others and hence go unnoticed; but, at the same time, you need to avoid hype and clearly and simply state what you are trying to do, or the editors will either throw your submission out or edit it radically and unpredictably.
You have undoubtedly seen ads for services that submit Web sites to directories and search engines. If you buy your own domain name, you'll see many more such ads in the form of spam email. Ignore them, regardless of how tempting they may sound. You'll learn a lot more about the Internet doing the submissions yourself rather than depending on someone else to do them for you -- and it's not that difficult to do.
In any case, don't expect immediate results from the Web directories.
Yahoo typically takes 2-4 months. You can pay Yahoo to get your site considered sooner. They charge $199 for this Business Express service, and promise to evaluate your site within seven days, but without any guarantee that you'll wind up in their directory. ("Adult" sites have to pay $600 for this same service.) For details, check http://docs.yahoo.com/info/suggest/busexpress.html
Listing in the Open Directory is free, and they update their data weekly. But very few people go to their site to perform their searches. http://dmoz.org isn't exactly a well-known address, like Yahoo is. Rather, users go to the sites of Open Directory's partners, such as AOL Search, HotBot, Google, Lycos, and Netscape Search. And it may take these partners "anywhere from 2 weeks to several months" to include information about your site.
LookSmart, a much smaller competitor, with ties to some major search engines (like AltaVista) no longer allows free submissions. You can pay $199 their Express service and get into the directory within two days, or pay $99 for their basic service and wait eight weeks.
Despite the long delays before you'll see results, don't underestimate the importance of the major Web directories, and don't procrastinate. Your listings there not only lead to traffic from the people who use those directories directly and through their partner sites, but they also boost your importance to search engines. Search engines try to automatically gage the popularity and quality of sites, and one important criterion for them is whether your site appears in the major Web directories. In other words, getting listed in Yahoo could make your pages come out higher in lists of search results at a site like Google.
Warning: If your site is in a language other than English, these directories will treat it as a second-class citizen. At the Open Directory, your non-English site can only be listed under the category "World", as opposed to a category that matches your subject matter. The main Yahoo Directory does not accept submissions of sites that are not in English. Instead you have to submit to separate Yahoo directories dedicated to specific languages. And the non-English Yahoo directories do not accept Business Express paid submissions.
The main LookSmart directory only accepts your submission if your site is in English and your content would be useful to an audience in the US. Sites designed for non-US audiences go in separate directories covering other countries.
Also consider trying to get included in Web-based directories that focus on your local geographic area.
People using directories go straight to your home page and then have to hunt to find the specific information that they want. But people using search engines will go directly to whatever page has the words that match the query.
Search engines typically index the full text of every page that they find -- and some include hundreds of millions of pages. Only words on Web pages matter -- not submitted descriptions.
Search engines don't wait for someone to submit information about a site. And no one filters, judges, or rearranges submitted information. Rather, they send out robot programs (called "web crawlers") which surf the Internet and bring back the full text of the pages they find. Search engine indexes are generated automatically, based on the words and phrases that are found on Web pages.
Tens of millions of people a day go to these search engines, enter queries, and decide where to go next based on the results lists they receive.
When you create a Web page, you don't have to register it anywhere; you don't have to tell a soul that it exists. You simply upload the file to a Web server connected to the Internet. Hence there is no central place for search engines to check to see what Web pages exist -- they have to "discover" the content of the Web by going from link to link to link, bouncing around among about a billion Web pages. Because of that, you can't predict with assurance when search engines might randomly find a new page of yours. But you can alert search engines of your existence, using the "Add URL" or "Submit Site" functions at their sites. In this case, you do not have to choose a category or provide a description -- you just enter the URL in their form. Then if your pages are properly designed (as described here) your information will be indexed within a few weeks and people will be able to find you.
Don't bother to submit to the
AOL, MSN, NBCi, and iwon all use Inktomi for their search index. (Submit to HotBot to reach all of them).
Webcrawler and Magellan use the Excite index.
Netscape uses Google for its index.
Basically, text counts, and text near the top of a page counts for more than text at the end. In particular, the HTML title and the first couple lines of text are the most important part of your pages. If the words and phrases that match a query happen to appear in the HTML title or first couple lines of text of one of your pages, chances are very good that that page will appear high in the list of search results.
For instance, if you want to find a job by posting your resume on the Web, don't put your name in the HTML title. You aren't trying to be found by people who already know you. You want to be found by people who have never heard of you. Don't waste any space in the HTML title on your own name. The first word in the HTML title and in the Web page itself should be "resume". After that, list your main qualifications and the kinds of jobs that you are looking for. Then you can proceed with a standard resume-style format.
As an example of how search engines rank pages, let's take a close look at AltaVista. AltaVista considers both static factors (calculating the value of a page independent of any particular query) and query-dependent factors.
Long pages that are rich in meaningful text (not randomly generated letters and words).
Pages that serve as good hubs, with lots of links to pages that have related content (topic similarity, rather than random meaningless links, such as those generated by link exchange programs or intended to generate a false impression of "popularity").
The connectivity of pages, including not just how many links there are to a page but where the links come from: the number of distinct domains and the "quality" ranking of those particular sites. This is calculated for the site and also for individual pages. A site or a page is "good" if many pages at many different sites point to it, and especially if many "good" sites point to it.
The level of the directory in which the page is found. If you have a hierarchy of directories at your site, put the most important information high, not deep. Search engines will presume that the higher you placed the information, the more important it is. Some crawlers may not venture deeper than three or four directory levels.
If a page is buried deeper than three or four directories, or if it takes too many clicks to get to a page, the crawler may stop before it ever gets to that page.
AltaVista recomputes these static factors about once a week, and new good pages should gradually move upward in the rankings.
Query-dependent factors include:
The HTML title.
The first lines of text.
Query words and phrases appearing early in a page rather than late.
Words mentioned in the "anchors" associated with hyperlinks to your pages. An anchor is the highlighted words that you click on to go to a linked page. For instance, if lots of good sites link to your site with anchor text "breast cancer" and the query is "breast cancer," chances are good that you will appear high in the list of matches.
n any query, rare words count more than common words. If someone searches for fruit and pomegranates, pages with the word pomegranates will appear at the top of the list (a technique known as "inverse document frequency"). Hence you should use specific terms on your pages, in your anchors, and in your metatags, not general ones that won't give you any advantage. Be specific whenever you can.
Repeating a word or phrase multiple times probably won't improve a page's ranking and might trigger an alarm that the designer of this page is trying to trick search engines (see below).
If you keep these ranking rules in mind, you should be able to get high ranking on searches for the phrases that matter most to you, because large corporations often use design techniques that inadvertently block search engines and are often constrained by design rules, related to branding, that limit their ability to make sensible adjustments. Basically, they are throwing away the opportunity to have search engines drive traffic to their sites, leaving the field open for smaller sites like yours.
Don't try tricks like that. Sooner or later you will pay dearly for them. Search engines work hard to detect cases where information submitted to their indexes that differs from what ordinary users see on those pages. When they find spam, they penalize the offending page. In cases of repeated abuse, they might exclude an entire site from the index. When that happens it is very hard to get back in again.
How could they ever detect what you are doing, among the hundreds of millions of pages in their index? Easy. Your competitors and the design and marketing firms which serve your competitors keep a close watch on how their own pages and your pages do in the various search engines. If they think you are cheating, they'll blow the whistle instantly, providing the search engines with all the information they need to sort out what you are doing and how misleading it is.
This also means that if being found by way of search engines is important to your business, you should be careful about where you have your pages hosted. If your hosting service happens to host spammers and pornographers, you could wind up penalized or excluded from some search engines, simply because the underlying (IP) address for that service is the same for all the sites it hosts, including yours.
The tell-tale indicator of such a site is a question mark ? in the URL. When a search engine crawler arrives at such a page, it captures the content for that page, but halts immediately, and will not follow the links, because it sees an infinite number of pages ahead -- a black hole that would bring it to a crash.
Google is an exception. It can crawl some kinds of dynamic pages, but it does so at a lower priority than ordinary HTML pages, which are far easier to deal with.
Many commercial sites also use Java script for fancy graphic effects or as a way to present information. When you look at the source code of such a page, you don't see the text content, and search engines don't see it either.
Frames make a page look and feel like two or more pages. The frame itself typically remains constant throughout a Web site, providing corporate branding information, site navigation links, and sometimes advertising. And the windows inside the frame is where the real content appears as you click from link to link within the site. For users with small screens, this approach can be a major nuisance, greatly reducing the space usable for real content.
Search engines typically index the outside of the frame as a distinct page. They also index each pane of the frame window as a separate page. That means that if the content matching a query is in a pane, visitors clicking on such a link in a search engine results list will see the pane and only the pane -- not the full page as it was designed. So if you want visitors from search engines to experience your pages the way they were intended to be seen, you should have non-frames as well as frames versions of those pages; and you should submit the non-frames versions with to the search engines with Add URL.
Tables present a similar problem -- the
crawler sees the text, but not organized the way it was
intended to be seen.
Registration and databases
A web crawler is just a dumb robot. It cannot fill in a form; it cannot answer questions; it stops short whenever input is required. Hence, if you require visitors to register and/or login before entering your site, by so doing you block search engine crawlers -- even if you don't charge anything, but are set up this way just to gather information about your visitors.
If you would like to gather information
about your users/members but would also like your pages to be
indexed, make the registration optional.
Similarly, a crawler cannot get content from a database, because it cannot fill out a form.
If your information is contained in one, big, beautiful picture -- great artwork, with the words embedded inside it -- the crawler won't see anything at all, and the words won't be indexed, and nobody will know that your image is there.
Search engines cannot see encrypted pages (ones that begin with https:// instead of http://). If you are tempted to use encryption at your site, do all the pages at your site need to be encrypted? Or only certain pages? The more content you make public, the more search engines will be able to index.
Exceptionally large pages -- bigger than a book chapter -- might present problems for some search engines. As a compromise, they may only index the beginning of such a page. Hence, if you want to post an entire book, you should break it into chapters.
Google indexes PDF (Acrobat) pages, but the other major search engines don't yet.
Search engine crawlers can't follow links in "drop down menus." If you use that technique, you should also have corresponding text links.
Basically, a sitemap is the table of contents for your site. If you have a couple dozen pages or less, your home page can and should serve as your sitemap. But if you have more pages than that, you should build a separate sitemap page.
Keep your sitemap simple -- without graphics or distractions. The folks who choose to use a sitemap typically know what they want and want to get there with a minimum of hassle.
Put links to your sitemap from every other page at your site. Then from any page, anyone can quickly go to the sitemap and then go to any other page at the site in just one more click.
Some crawlers will only go one or two layers deep at your site. In other words, if you submit your home page and it has links to about a dozen other pages, and they have links from them to other pages and from them to others, etc., the crawlers will halt long before they have found all the pages at your site.
If you have a sitemap page, with links to every page at your site, by submitting that page, instead of your home page to search engines, you avoid that problem.
No matter how large your site is, you should make every effort to keep your sitemap complete and up to date and to include all the necessary information and links on a single page. If your site is large, you should organize your sitemap by category, and, at the top of the page, list your major headings with internal links to those portions of the page. Keep it simple.
Remember your aim isn't to keep your visitors at your site for a long time, but rather to help them get what they want quickly and effectively, so they'll come back again and again.
My own sitemap, at www.samizdat.com/sitemap.html lists over a thousand pages. It would take over 60 pieces of paper to print out that "page." Another good example of a sitemap is www.jeremyjosephs.com/sitemap.html, covering the site of a freelance writer in France, where he has posted the complete text of over a hundred of his articles.
For a quick path to the submission pages of each of the major search engines, go to www.samizdat.com/submit.html Click on the link for each of the search engines listed; then enter the URL for your sitemap page, not your home page. That should take you less than 15 minutes.
You don't have to have any special authority to submit a page. This is not a directory, like Yahoo, where the information providers have to submit the information and have to prove they are who they say they are. When you submit a URL to a search engine, a web crawler will immediately or eventually fetch that page. Actually getting the information into the index may take anywhere from a week (AltaVista) to two or three months.
To fight back, AltaVista has initiated a new page submission process that is designed to block automatic submissions. You need to enter a code which can only be understood by humans -- a set of letters and numbers in random typefaces and sizes and at odd angles. Then you can enter 5 URLs. You can then enter another code and do 5 more, with no limit. Thanks to this process, it now takes an average of just seven days to get into the AltaVista index -- at no cost.
Because of the speed of response at AltaVista, with free submissions, you should submit each and every one of your pages there, rather than wait for the web crawler to follow links and find all your pages. And you should go back and submit whenever you create a new page or significantly change an old one.
Trying to cope with the same problem of search engine spam, Inktomi has begun to charge for prompt and regular additions of pages in their index, which is used by half a dozen of the most popular search sites. You have two choices -- Search/Submit (which you can sign up for through Network Solutions) costs $30 for the first URL (individual page) and $15 for each additional. This gets you into the index within two days and buys you a one-year subscription of having your page checked for new content several times per week. For sites with 1000 or more URLs, you can sign up for Index Connect, which means Inktomi will check all your pages (or all of your pages that you want them to) every two days. You pay an upfront fee and a price based on traffic.
Once your pages get into the index, either for free or by way of either of these paid services, Inktomi's normal unbiased rules of ranking prevail. Content and only content matters, unlike sites like GoTo, where advertisers bid and pay for ranking (as noted in Chapter One).
Create a Web page with a Valentine, birthday, or unbirthday message. As the HTML title, put the recipient's name, with no spaces, followed immediately by his or her birthdate, with no punctuation (e.g., gwendolynjones61779). Put your message in the first couple lines of text. Post this page at your Web site, without making any links to it. Go to AltaVista and submit that page. (It's the speed at which AltaVista adds new pages that makes it the search engine of choice for this exercise.)
Check back at AltaVista over the next week to see if the page is in the index. (Enter the query url: followed by the complete URL of your page to check that, e.g., url:members.nbci.com/rjones5/birthday.html) When the page is in the index, enter as your query the same combination of letters and numbers that you put in the HTML title. Your result list will probably consist of your page and only your page, and your message should appear in the description in that results list.
Now tell your friend to do that search at AltaVista. It should be a fun surprise.
By the way, this would work (and be even more "secret") if, after the page was included in the AltaVista index, you deleted the page from your site. Then the only place that message would reside would be in that description in the AltaVista index.
You could use any unique set of letters and numbers to produce this effect. And you and your friend might want to each agree on a unique identifier and leave messages like this for one another on a regular basis.
You also could use this technique to pass along "secret" information related to an online masquerade party, as a follow up to the exercise you did in Chapter Two.
join an expert service
First, create a signature file that unobtrusively but clearly conveys your message. This approach enables you to present a low-key marketing message, even in environments where marketing per se is taboo -- like many email discussion groups, and also newsgroups (discussed below).
Most email programs have a function for setting your default "signature" -- a few lines, identifying you, that get automatically appended to every message you send. Your first step in personally publicizing your site should be to write a signature that clearly but discretely gets your message across. Include your name (or pen name) and email address (the one you use in connection with your site) and the URL of your site. And, at the end, include a tag line that describes the purpose of your site as a whole. You might also want to highlight one or two particular pages at your site, with their URLs and brief descriptions. But don't let your signature ramble on -- keep it to five lines or less.
If you don't have the ability to create automatic signatures, just do the same thing with a Word file, and whenever you send email, copy and paste that text on at the end.
With such a signature, every single message you send helps spread the word, regardless of the subject matter of the main text, and does so without you 1) having to spend the time to compose something new, or 2) coming across as pushy. And if and when your messages get forwarded, that signature is likely to get forwarded too.
Email discussion lists on the Internet date back to 1975 -- 18 years before the first Web browsers appeared. And email-based "communities" still thrive today, both independent of the Web and in conjunction with it. Many of these email distribution lists use automated software, so you sign on and off with a standard message to a particular address. The audience for a given list might be a few dozen people or a few thousand, and the volume of email generated varies from a couple a week to hundreds per day.
Look for groups that relate to the main topic of your Web site -- for instance, baseball cards or extraterrestrials -- and carefully read the rules/procedures for those groups. If you subscribe, you'll start getting email from the group. If what you see seems useless, unsubscribe and try others. If the discussion catches your interest, actively participate. Every time you send a message to the list be sure to include your "signature," which points them to your site. Actively participating in such a discussion is a great way to become known as an expert or enthusiast in an area related to your Web site, and also a way to make friends and build relationships with others who have similar interests.
Liszt is a directory of over 80,000
mailing lists. These include:
discussion groups, where all subscribers can post their thoughts; email that you send to the group address automatically goes to everyone on the list;
moderated discussion groups, where an editor reads the postings and only forwards those that he/she deems appropriate; this is often a means of avoiding spam; and it is also a means of keeping the volume of email from a given list to a reasonable level;
discussion group digests, where the editor assembles a select group of messages to be sent as a single message to folks who have subscribed to receive the digest only; and
newsletter or announcement format, where a single writer broadcasts periodical messages to subscribers.
You can browse by category or search through their list of lists. Their descriptions are very brief, and the search only looks at the titles and descriptions. Be sure to make your search broad enough to get the results you want. For instance, if you are building a Web site related to videogames, a search for that term would yield only one list, while a search for "games" gives you two categories to explore and 11 lists in Liszt Select (discussions that have gone through some minimal degree of editorial review), and 70 unreviewed lists. Those categories put you in touch with dozens more lists that you might be interested in.
Check the help files for tips on searching -- including use of their "junk filter."
Liszt doesn't let you read or post to the groups it lists. It just helps you find out that a list exists, tells you what its focus and purpose are, and lets you know all you need to join. You then join by email, and once you've subscribed, you receive and post messages by email. Before joining, you should take a close look at the information Liszt provides. Many of these lists are not meant for the public or have names that might be misleading. Also, be prepared to receive dozens of messages per day for each of the lists you subscribe to. You might want to open separate free email accounts to receive these messages, without filling your normal email inbox beyond its limit, and perhaps missing an important business or personal message.
Liszt emphasizes that you should not post advertising to email discussion lists. "Send any ads to the mailing lists in Liszt, and demons will come and pull out your toenails." Also, "never, ever send ads to a group unless you've been a member of the group for a long time and know for certain they like ads of that sort (it's pretty unlikely they do)."
But it is appropriate to use a signature file with your URL and a low-key marketing tag line, as described above. For instance, my signature now reads:
Richard Seltzer, email@example.com, www.samizdat.comYou also can and should post and respond to controversial messages that give you an opportunity to express viewpoints related to your business, and thereby become known to the community of subscribers.
Internet marketing consultant www.samizdat.com/consult.html
Online discussion at Web Business Bootcamp www.webworkzone.com/bootcamp
The lists at Liszt are extensive, and the best available, but they are automatically generated and are not complete. Liszt collects lists of lists from computers on the Internet that run such email discussion software as major domo, LISTSERV(TM), listproc, maiser, or macjordomo software. Computers running such software will send you a list of all its lists if you send the one-word command "lists." Liszt regularly collates such information from hundreds of servers.
Someone must have submitted the server name to Lizst or it must be publicly available on the Web or in Usenet newsgroups (see the discussion of newsgroups below) to be included. Unlike Web search engines, Liszt does not blindly try to gather information wherever it might be.
Several of my favorite email discussion groups (like firstname.lastname@example.org) recently migrated to eGroups, which is now owned by Yahoo (groups.yahoo.com). Some of the groups you'll find there are open to the public, while others are for members only, and by invitation only. You can read postings to public groups without subscribing or registering. But if you wish to post on the Web, you need to register; and to participate by email, you need to subscribe to a particular group. You can browse or search through their list of lists; and once you are at the Web page for a particular list, you can search within the messages of that group. You can even restrict your search to a particular month. You can post by email or at the Web site (using the reply command), but to do so you must register (for free) with Yahoo. You can view the list of messages in a given public group by date or by "thread" (the topic of discussion with all its replies and replies to replies). Supported by advertising, the service is free to users. The groups at egroups are not listed at Liszt, and the number of them appears to be growing very rapidly. Their category of Computer & Video Games is very well populated.
Topica has a similar service, which is tied to Liszt. There's a dropdown menu next to the search box at Liszt that lets you choose whether to search through Liszt or Topica. You can also go straight to www.topica.com and browse the categories or search.
At Topica, when you click on an item in a list of search matches, you see a detailed description of the group. From that screen, you can choose to subscribe or read. From the "read" page, you can search through the content of all the postings for a particular group. You need to register to post or to start your own list. When you subscribe to a particular list you can indicate whether you want to receive everything or just "digests" or only read the messages on the Web. They support announcement style, moderated, and open discussion lists. They make it easy to add an automated signature to all your postings. You can post by email or on the Web. You can also put your email subscription on hold while you are on vacation. When you browse or search through their list of lists, you get to see descriptions of the groups, with instructions on how to subscribe.
Dating back to 1979, newsgroup distribution (AKA usenet news) depends on volunteer arrangements among participating companies and institutions. Messages get posted not just to one but to thousands of news servers around the world -- archives where they remain accessible for weeks, days, or months, depending on the whim of the person managing that server. Many Internet Service Providers (ISP) offer newsgroup access to their customers. Those customers set up their browser, their email program, or special newsreader software to access the news server their ISP uses. If you don't have that setup, in the past, your best way to read and post newsgroups messages was by way of Deja.com's Web-based service. As mentioned in Chapter One, Deja.com was recently purchased by Google.
There are tens of thousands of newsgroups, each devoted to a different, very narrowly defined subject area -- everything imaginable: from chess and sports to every variety of computer hardware and software to every variety of sexual activity. The largest newsgroups have hundreds of participants who regularly post messages and tens of thousands of readers. The discussions are "threaded," where the subject line makes it clear which message is a response to which other message. The most useful messages often get posted to multiple newsgroups, forwarded over email distribution lists, and eventually are posted on the Web by fans, sometimes at multiple Web sites. Once you post a message to a newsgroup, it could wind up anywhere -- so be careful what you say. And if you have a flair for writing, do your best to craft the kinds of postings that others will want to widely disseminate.
Because of the volume of the traffic, and sometimes because of the subject matter, most ISPs offer just a subset of newsgroups -- very few provide all of them. You could, however, get all of them by way of Deja.com. Google's delay in getting Deja restarted derives from the immensity of the Deja archive -- over 500 million messages -- "a terabyte of human conversation dating back to 1995".
If you have newsgroup access through your ISP, you can use Liszt.com to search through descriptions of over 30,000 newsgroups, which will help you to decide which to "subscribe" to. But Liszt does not let you read the individual postings or to post items of your own.
As mentioned in Chapter One, as an interim measure, today you can read and post to a subset of newsgroups from such services as newsone.net and nooz.net. But if and when Google's new service becomes available, that's the one you'll want to use. They have a beta version running now, that lets you browse, search, and read messages posted over the last six months or so; though you still can't post there. You can get to the beta version by way of www.deja.com or groups.google.com.
If you are serious about promoting your Web site online, you definitely should check out the related newsgroups. Here you're likely to encounter very different demographics than at the more recent Web-based discussion areas. Here more of the participants are techie and more have been using the Internet longer than the typical AOL-style general populace consumers who frequent Web-based chat rooms.
Newsgroup addresses are arranged in a
hierarchy. As Google describes them, the top level includes:
alt. Any conceivable topic.
biz. Business products, services, reviews...
comp. Hardware, software, consumer info...
humanities. Fine art, literature, philosophy...
misc. Employment, health, and much more...
news. Info about Usenet news...
rec. Games, hobbies, sports...
sci. Applied science, social science...
soc. Social issues, culture...
talk. Current issues and debates...
For example, under rec., you'll find rec.games, rec.nude, etc. And under rec.games, rec.games.computer. And under that, rec.games.computer.quake. And under that, rec.games.computer.quake.playing.
While Liszt only lets you search through their brief descriptions of the groups, Deja/Google lets you search the messages themselves -- either their entire archive of messages, or messages posted to a particular subset of the hierarchy, or messages posted to a particular group. These messages are the candid comments of individuals on every subject imaginable. Here is where you can find out what people are saying about you, your company, and your products, or about your partners or competition. Here, too, you can get helpful advice of all kinds.
A few newsgroups allow and even encourage you to talk about and promote your own products and services. But most do not. Before posting to any group, read lots of recent postings to get a feel for what is appropriate. Tailor your messages for the audience. Don't post messages that are inappropriate for a given group or that have already been asked many times recently, or you may prompt angry responses, known as "flaming." Start by responding to previous postings -- get involved in the existing dialogue, begin to act and feel like a member of the newsgroup community. And include your "signature" at the end of every one of your messages.
The format often looks very much like what you see at Topica and eGroups (Yahoo). But here the main means of distribution is the Web, rather than email. Here, too, the discussions are usually hosted on the servers of the companies running the discussions, each of which sets the topics, establishes its own rules, and may moderate the discussion (deleting off-topic items; and blocking access to people who seriously misbehave).
The technology used here was developed mainly for "collaboration" -- online discussions among business colleagues and partners. And the vast majority of forums are closed to outsiders.
To find the thousands of public forums where you can participate, go to www.forumone.com/index, for their "Online Community Index". Enter the topic you are interested in the search box. Then click on "Everything" or a specific topic. If you don't specify, your results will be just a small subset of what's available -- the sites that ForumOne recommends. Click on a link in the results list, and you'll go straight to the forum in question. In many cases, these forums will require you to register before reading or posting.
To participate in a forum, you don't need any plug-ins or special software. All you need is a Web browser. They typically allow you to post a comment as a new topic or as a reply to a previous one, so over time a "thread" of discussion grows. Sometimes you can request email alerts when someone posts a reply to a message of yours or a message that you are particularly interested in.
Proceed carefully in this space. You are a guest in someone else's territory.
These discussions tend to be less active and more focused than email distribution and newsgroups. But if the topic interests you or involves the leaders in your field, you'll want to be there both to learn from what's said and also to become better known. Once again, use a signature file to unobtrusively let the others know about your Web site.
I run a forum called "Web business bootcamp" at www.webworkzone.com/bootcamp. Feel free to read and post there, using that space to become familiar with how forums work and also as a way to get answers to questions related to this book. [author note: no longer in existence]
In chat, the discussion is live. To participate, you need to connect when the others do.
Some chat rooms are spontaneous and unplanned and are open all the time, with people dropping in and out.
Others are set up for planned discussions at prearranged times with invited guests and moderators.
Still others are planned as closed meetings.
The earliest chats on the Internet, pre-dating the Web, used technology called Internet Relay Chat (IRC). That style still flourishes -- with over 37,000 "channels" (the equivalent of "chat room") available at any time and searchable from Liszt.com. Just like you have to have software for email and software for browsing the Web, you need separate software for this style of chatting. For Windows, Liszt.com recommends mIRC from www.mirc.com.
Download and install the software. Find a channel that looks interesting. And dive in. The dialogue tends to be very fast paced, with lots of one-line messages. The messages are ephemeral -- automatically erased from the servers; though individuals may choose to personally save some of the traffic on their hard drives.
Here you can't use a "signature." (Actually, your signature is probably far longer than the average message). But you can meet people with similar interests and become known as a guru in a field where you have special knowledge and are willing to help others.
Many popular Web portals, like Yahoo, offer a different, Web-based style of chat that doesn't get indexed by Liszt.com. Typically, you have to register and sign in with a password. Sometimes your browser software suffices. At other sites, you have to download a special chat plug-in. The instructions are usually clear and simple -- intended for a non-technical audience of consumers. Just dive in -- read and react. It won't take long for you to get the drift of how it works.
Typically, you type your messages into a form, and see what you and others have been saying in a separate viewing area. You'll probably see buttons you can click to submit what you've typed and/or to change the look-and-feel of your page. Check the Help files, or ask your questions about how this particular chat works in the chat room itself.
Some of these Web sites have unstructured chat rooms open all day, every day, with random visitors talking about whatever is on their mind. Often, you'll go into such a chat room, and no one is there. Others hold scheduled events with experts and celebrities as guests. For example, Yahoo might have talks about fitness or heart disease, and chats with soap opera stars.
I've been running weekly chat sessions about Business on the Web since June 1996, and post the transcripts at my site, where they provide valuable content, attracting lots of visitors (see www.samizdat.com/chat.html). We'll talk further about that approach to buildling an audience in Chapter Seven. [author note: I no longer do these chat sessions; for an explanation of why, see the chat farewell article at www.samizdat.com/chatfarewell.html ]
Experts volunteer their services for the benefit of becoming known as experts, and also to make contact to potential customers, and to spread the word about their Web sites.
Connect to AllExperts, look for me (I've been an expert there for the last year), and, as an experiment, post a question for me.
Then check Abuzz, Infomarkets, and Smallbusiness.com Post more questions. Maybe get involved in related forum-style discussions at those sites. If you like what you see at any of these sites, and if you believe that you would qualify in as an expert in an area that's related to your Web site, volunteer.
If you are accepted, they will post
your bio and credentials, including information about your Web
site. Your experience as an expert in such an environment can
be important not just for the contacts and the reputation, but
also giving you practice in answering a wide range of
questions in your field, learning what really matters to the
folks who are the target audience for your Web site.
download and try WebTrends
try host: and link: searches at AltaVista
But don't forget the benefits of building a reputation, establishing and cementing contacts that could prove valuable later. For instance, about once every two weeks, I'm contacted by some reporter who wants to interview me as part of an article, because they found related material at my site.
Also, not all "wins" are represented in cash, and some of your best are likely to be totally unexpected -- not at all what you were targeting. For instance, I translated two books by a Russian officer (Alexander Bulatovich) about his experiences in Ethiopia around 1900 (from the Russian). I was unable to sell the translation to book publishers. Publishers all said that there was no market for anything about Ethiopia, regardless of its merit. I then posted the full text of both books at my Web site. I got interesting email from people all over the world (including a grad student in Poland, who based her doctoral dissertation on my texts). Then I got a postal letter from Professor Pankhurst in Addis Ababa, the world's expert on that period of Ethiopian history. Someone found my translation on the Web, printed the whole thing out, and gave it to him. He said that this book "must" be published. Shortly thereafter I got email from a professor in Bremen, Germany, who happened to be the great-grandson of the Emperor Menelik II (mentioned in the book), who was adamant that they must be published, and even offered to help the would-be publisher financially. With those two messages as ammunition, I went back to an editor who had previously rejected the manuscript, and he almost immediately accepted it. It was finally published last summer. As this is an "academic" book. I'm only paid in copies and reputation. But I consider this an extraordinary success, which was made possible by my Web site. In Chapter Twelve, we'll talk more about such bizarre occurrences, and what you can do to increase their likelihood.
The people you want to reach don't appreciate spam. At the very least, you some of your annoyed recipients will be very articulate about you and your site in on-line discussions. At the worst, a hacker could damage or bring down your Web site. The worst perpetrators of spam -- the casinos and porn sites -- mask who they are and how they operate with elaborate technical tricks. But, as a beginner in the online business world, you are very vulnerable to retaliation by those you anger.
They typically claim to deal with dozens if not hundreds of search engines and directories; and their guarantee isn't that you'll appear high on an important one, but rather on any one of them. Also, these services focus on "keywords", and, for a price, promise to set things up so that your pages will appear high in the results of at least one of the search engines they cover when people enter those keywords as queries. But search engines don't use "keywords", except for advertising sales. They index every word on every page. Searches for individual "keywords" typically yield hundreds of thousands, if not millions of matches -- most of which are useless. The most useful queries for searchers -- and for you -- are ones for rare words or unique phrases.
In addition, some search engine optimization services engage in tricks on your behalf (often without your knowing it). For instance, they might create "doorway" pages -- pages where the text has no real meaning, but that include your keywords in ways that could make your pages appear high on some search engine results lists. These doorway pages may have links to your site or may automatically redirect visitors to your site. But these pages don't reside at your site. Rather, they sit on the systems of the optimization firm. Hence, any traffic that goes there increases their popularity value, not yours. And the kinds of tricks they play for you could lead some search engines to ban all your pages.
Instead of paying a search engine optimization service or paying for sponsored positioning, and instead of reading up on all the latest ways to try to trick search engines, you should devote your energy to creating and posting more and more useful text. Text is what really fuels search engines.
Getting traffic on the Web is a random game, like rolling dice. You can try to load the dice by paying for advertising or paying for positioning at sites that allow that. Or you can roll more dice, which is what you do by adding more text content. You have a lot better chance of rolling a 6, if you are rolling dozens of dice than if you are rolling just one.
Beware, metatags themselves are nearly worthless, and focusing on them can lead you to miss the most important factor in being found -- the actual text content of your pages.
If the top of each of your page is strewn with graphic elements -- each of them associated with a word or phrase -- webcrawler will retrieve only the words, not the graphics, and those random words at the top of the page will wind up as the "description" of your page that appears in search engine results lists.
If you truly love that kind of graphic design or if you have some compelling reason why you don't want to clearly state what your page is about in the first couple lines of text, you can add a description Metatag to your page. If you are using the Internet Assistant for Word, as described above, click on File, then on HTML Document Information (or click on the icon that looks like the letter "i" on a sheet of paper), and then click on Advanced and on Meta. There you should enter <META name = "description" content="your text"> Just replace "your text" with the very words that you would like to appear in the results lists of search engines. Limit yourself to just a couple lines -- that's all the search engines will take.
With Word 2000, you will have to do this by hand. Open the document, click on View, then on HTML source. Then enter that same line on any line between <HEAD> and </HEAD> and after <TITLE> </TITLE>.
After you do that, resubmit your page to the search engines. Since AltaVista is the quickest at indexing new pages, check back there about five to seven days later to see how your entry now looks. Search for url: followed by the full address of the page in question, e.g., url:www.samizdat.com/report.html
If you don't like what you see and decide to make changes, be sure to submit your URL again, and then check again.
A description metatag will allow you to control the description that search engines serve up for your pages, as an alternative to the default, which is the first couple lines of text on the page. But for ranking purposes, the HTML title and the first couple lines of text still take precedence. So if your page is poorly designed (from a search engine perspective), with random words associated with graphics, your description metatag is not going to help your ranking. You would be better off with a page that had no metatags, and, instead, clearly stated what it was about in the HTML title and the first lines of text.
When writing the text of your pages, try to include words and phrases that people looking for your kind of information are likely to use as a query in search engines. If for some reason those words and phrases don't appear anywhere in the normal text, you can add a "keyword metatag" to each of your pages. You create such a tag the same way and put it in the same area of your page as a description Metatag. Here you enter <META name="keywords" content="your words one after the other without punctuation"> Once again, limit yourself to a couple of lines -- that's all the search engines will pay attention to.
The purpose of the "keyword" metatag is simply to allow you to add synonyms -- words that are appropriate for what's on your page, that describe what's there, but that do not actually appear on that page.
Many Webmasters and page designers think that by putting words in keyword metatags they are getting some advantage in the ranking or making up for the fact that their pages have very little text content -- just flashy effects. But, no, those words are worth little more than any other word in the main text of the page. There is nothing "key" about it. You have simply added a few more words to the page in a place that is not visible.
Why aren't metatags given precedence? Consider the opportunity for abuse/spamming. Some page designers and search optimization services have tried to use keyword metatags to trick search engines -- repeating the word or phrase that's most important to them over and over. In retaliation and to maintain the integrity of their indexes, search engines often penalize pages that try to abuse the keyword metatag with excessive repetition.
What matters most to search engine users is the actual content that is visible on Web pages, not the marketing-oriented notes that have been added in metatags. The most important elements for ranking are not metatags, but rather 1) the HTML title and 2) the first couple lines of text. Hence pages that clearly state what they are about in the HTML title and first couple lines of text are likely to get better treatment than those that rely on metatags. There is no need for you to learn how to create metatags. They serve as crutches for Web pages with designs that are ill-suited for search engines. If you build your pages right, you won't need them.
Fast and Google don't support metatags
at all. Excite only supports the description metatag, not key
word metatags. Inktomi and AltaVista index both kinds of
metatags, but AltaVista gives them no value at all for
ranking. In other words, it's hardly worth the effort to write
key word metatags. You are much better off having lots of
useful and interesting text.
Key-word position checkers
Similarly, you will be tempted by software that automatically checks all the major search engines to determine how your whole site or particular pages of your rank for particular queries. WebPostion Gold, TopDog, and AdWeb all perform such a service. Apparently, they do a very good job of this. But, unfortunately, they, too, are based on the premise that key words matter. Yes, you get very precise, up-to-date data. But it's the wrong data, leading you to emphasize the wrong kinds of activities in trying to improve your site.
Also, these automated position-checking programs are so popular that they get overused by people like you. Sometimes search engines get more queries from these programs automatically checking about position than they do from real searchers. That puts an enormous, useless load on the search engines, slowing responses for real queries, and forcing search engine companies to invest more to keep up with demand for usage. (At a recent search engine seminar, the representative from Google indicated that his company was considering banning such bots.)
Today you can get extraordinary detail from automated analysis of Web site logs. If you have a small site and use a Web hosting service, don't just rely on the free statistical program your host runs for you. The added information you could glean from a top-notch program might be worth the hundreds of dollars such a program will cost; or, at the very least, you can run such software for a free trial period and, during that time, learn about important trends and fix problems with your site.
I recently downloaded Log Analyzer 6.0 from WebTrends www.webtrends.com This software runs on your PC. You need over 100 megs of RAM, over 200 MHz processor speed, and lots of free disk space for good performance. You point the program to the raw logs at your hosting site. It automatically gets those files (by ftp) on a schedule that you set, and generates a detailed reports, covering all the factors that you select as important, complete with graphs to help you spot trends.
Go to www.samizdat.com/jan25/jan25.htm. [no longer online] There you will see stats for my site from one typical day in January 2001, analyzed and presented by WebTrends Log Analyzer.
Look at the "Technical" stats. WebTrends provides not just a list of errors (all the instances of visitors not getting the page they requested), but the referring page as well. Sometimes a visitor made a typo when entering a URL; but, far more often, the visitor clicked on a link that contained a typo. The "referring page" is the page where that typo appears. If it's a page at your own site, that's easy to fix. And if another Web site has a typo in a link to one of your pages, seeing where the error lies, you can send email to the webmaster, requesting that he or she fix it.
Under "General Statistics", check the traffic. Pay particular attention to "Page Views" (the number of Web pages seen) and "Sessions" (the number of times visitors came to your site, regardless of the number of pages they looked at). Here you only see the stats for a single day. But depending on how your hosting service has organized your raw logs, you may be able to see those stats week by week, and month by month, as well as day by day.
"Hits" tend to be misleading, because each element of your page design that loads separately constitutes a hit. That means that the more graphics you have on a page and the more complicated your pages are (i.e., the more difficult they are to load), the more hits you'll get, without that helping your business at all. A visit to a single page, regardless of how many pieces it is made up of, is a "page view". Each time a user comes to your site -- regardless of how many pages that person looks at -- constitutes a "session."
Click on "Resources Accessed". Here you see the traffic for individual pages broken out in a variety of ways. Here you can see which of your pages are best at bringing traffic to your site ("Entry Pages"), and which most frequently lead to a visitor going away ("Exit Pages").
Since this set of data is just for one day, the "Visitors" and "Demographics" information isn't particularly helpful. But if you had data for a week, a month, or even a year or more, it would be helpful to see how many of your visitors were newcomers, and among the repeat visitors, how many times they came back over that time.
The geographic information isn't particularly helpful, since it is based on the location of the visitor's ISP, rather than the visitor him/herself.
The "Activity Statistics" can give you a better feel for where your audience is. How does your traffic vary over the course of a day? If you are getting significant traffic after midnight your time, chances are good that you have a global audience. If you have data from a week or more, comparing week-day and weekend traffic should indicate whether your visitors typically access from work or from home.
Under "Activity Statistics", take a good look at "Length of Visit", and "Number of Views". I was quite happy with the number of page views and sessions I was getting. But then I saw that 994 out of 1115 visitors stayed for less than a minute and 895 only looked at a single page. Lots of visitors were finding my pages by search engines, but weren't satisfied with what they were seeing. On the other hand, 37 visitors stayed for more than 19 minutes, accounting for 183 page views -- those were quality visitors who loved what they found.
Under "Referrers" and "Key Words", you see where the traffic to your pages is coming from. The top referrers are likely to be search engines and directories, unless you are poorly represented there and depend instead on paid advertising.
Under "Top Referring Sites", note that Google and Google.Yahoo are on the top. Later under "Top Search Engines", google.yahoo is referred to as just Yahoo. Note that Google is the default search engine for queries at Yahoo that do not get matches from the Yahoo directory.
Overall, about half of my traffic came straight from search engines and directories.
Under "Top Search Engines", you see that of the traffic that came by way of search engines, 60% came from Google, either directly or indirectly through Yahoo. AltaVista accounted for about 10%. Then came MSN, Netscape, Lycos, Excite, AlltheWeb (AKA Fast), Northern Light, and HotBot. All the other search engines accounted for less than 1% each.
You can also see what people were looking for when they came to my site by way of search engines -- the full set of words that they entered in their queries. Most people typed in three or four words or even more -- all kinds of combinations that I would have never anticipated. You also see what people from different search engines were looking for -- indicating how well represented your site is in the various indexes. And you see lists of "key words" -- single words that happened to appear in queries (regardless of how complex the full query was). These "key words" tend to be relatively useless (the, of, computer, etc.)
People who enter single-word queries which are common words, like "network" or "education" or "sports" are likely to be clueless surfers, rather than people with a serious interest in what you have to offer. And, any case, they will never find you among the many millions of Web pages that mention those words. It's the unique multi-word searches that are worth most to you.
Under "Browsers & Platforms", check "Visiting Spiders." That's another term for web crawlers -- the robot programs that search engines use to gather information about content on the Web. There you see which search engines (if any) are checking your site and how frequently they return. If you have lots of pages, a crawler might, in a single session, look at all of them, inflating your page-view statistics for that day. If crawler traffic is significant, to monitor your progress over time, you should subtract the crawler numbers, so you are tracking only "real" visitors. On this particular day, there wasn't much crawler activity.
When you are familiar with your numbers and any trends they indicate, contact your counterparts at related non-competing sites (perhaps partners of yours) and learn what you can about their stats, to calibrate how you are doing. What might be great stats in one market niche could be terrible in another.
In addition, these stats show what browsers people are using to get to your site. (At mine, Microsoft's IE is outrunning Netscape and Netscape compatibles by a margin of 2 to 1). And you see what browser versions people are using. (At mine, over 85% of the IE folks are using version 5; and over 95% of the Netscape folks are using version 4, with less than 2% using a higher version of Netscape).
More important, you see which search engine crawlers have been visiting your site, and hence which indexes have current information about your pages, and how many hits and sessions these crawlers account for, so you can take that into account when judging how your overall traffic changes over time.
Perhaps your ISP already provides you with stats analyzed by this program or another equivalent one. If not, you, too, can go to WebTrends and download the trial version of their Log Analyzer software. You can use it for a couple weeks for free, and that should be time enough to show you how people really navigate to your site, and at the same time help you spot and fix miscellaneous mistakes you may have made in your links.
To get full value from this software (and to avoid jumping to inaccurate conclusions based on the stats), you need to be sure that the raw logs provided by your hosting service are complete. Ask your hosting service's support folks where they store the raw logs (you'll need that information anyway to point the statistical analysis program there). Then ask for advice on how you can read the raw logs for any given day. Entries typically appear one per line in chronological order. You'll want to check the time of the first entry and the time of the last entry for several days. Typically, the support folks who deal with traffic have little or no appreciation for how important accurate statistics are to people like you and me.
Soon after I moved to a new service
(which I love for all the other good things it does), I saw a
drop off in my traffic, and also saw erratic spikes, that had
never appeared before. Two or three days a month, the traffic
would be higher than I was used to. And the rest of the time
it would be 20-50% less than normal. Naturally, this set off
warning bells in my head -- what was I doing wrong? and what
could I do to fix it? But when I took a look at the raw logs,
it turned out that the high traffic days were the only days
that the logs had been run for 24 hours. On most days, the
logs were turned on, apparently randomly, between 9 AM and
noon, and then shut off at about midnight. It doesn't matter
how good your traffic analysis program is if you have
incomplete and randomly irregular data to start with.
Use AltaVista to monitor your progress and diagnose problems
The search engine AltaVista has some unique and powerful commands that can help you monitor your progress and spot problems that you can easily fix.
Go to www.altavista.com If you have your own domain name, like samizdat.com, enter the query host:yourdomainname.com e.g., host:samizdat.com
If you are still operating on free
space at NBCi or elsewhere, enter
url:yourfullwebaddress e.g., url:members.nbci.com/rseltzer
In either case, the items in the results list are the pages from your Web site that are in the AltaVista index. If you see all your pages there, great. If not, make a note of which ones aren't included, and submit all the other pages to AltaVista, one at a time, (as described in Chapter Five).
Now, look again at that results list. Look at the words that are used for the hyperlink to your page. That's the HTML title. Do you see the same title appearing more than once? Or do you see some pages labeled "no title"? Some page designers pay little or no attention to HTML titles -- in part, because the page creation tools they use assign them automatically or ignore them. But from the perspective of search engines, the HTML title is the most important of a Web page -- both because that's what appears as the linked words in a results list and also because that's the most important factor determining the ranking of matching pages. If you followed the instructions in earlier chapters, you should be fine, with unique, clearly descriptive HTML titles for each and every one of your page. If you forgot to give titles to some of your pages or if you see the same title repeated several times (as frequently happens when you copy-and-paste to create new pages that have the same look as older pages), fix that now.
Next, look at description that appears with each item in the list. The default description is the first couple of lines of text on your page. Are your descriptions clear and useful? Also, if you decided to give your pages a common look, you might have made the mistake of repeating the same text at the top of each page. If you see problems of that kind, fix them now.
You'll see a list of Web pages that are not at your site that have links to pages at your site. Check those pages and learn what you can about the people and companies that have linked to you. These are your natural allies.
If your site is brand new, chances are that you see no results yet, and you'll be very interested in finding out if and when people do start linking to you. Go to www.peacefire.org/tracerlock. There, sign up for a free account and set up for their search engine monitoring service. Enter the AltaVista queries that you are interested in keeping track of (like the link: query discussed above), and they will send you email alerts when new results appear for those queries.
If and when sites have made links to you, if they are complementary to the purpose of your site, link back to them and email the Webmasters, letting them know that you have.
In any case, you should use search engines like AltaVista to find Web sites that have information related to yours -- information that you would like to link to as a convenience for your visitors. Put such links wherever it makes sense for you -- perhaps with different ones on different pages of yours, or perhaps putting a lot of them together on a recommended links page, with descriptions of what can be found on those pages. Then contact the webmasters of those sites, pointing them to the pages where you've linked to them, and ask them if they would please link back to you.
The more links to your pages the better, especially links from well-respected sites and sites that deal with related content. These links can drive additional traffic to your site and also (for some search engines, like AltaVista and Google) can raise the ranking for your pages (making them appear higher in search result lists).
If, eventually, you have many pages
linking to yours, you are going to want to know about all of
them, even though that could be time-consuming. In the main
search area at AltaVista, you only see a maximum of 200
matches (20 screens of 10 matches each). To see more than 200,
use their Advanced Search. There the syntax for this search is
a little different:
link:yourdoman.com AND NOT host:yourdomain.com or
link:yourfullwebaddress AND NOT url:yourfullwebaddress
Submit the query, then edit the URL of the search results page entering numbers after stq= in increments of ten, up to 990. That will let you see up to 1000 results. If you are fortunate enough to have more than a thousand Web pages linking to yours, in Advanced Search, use the Date Range feature (using European style for date -- day, then month, then year) to do a series of searches (one month or week or day at a time) to try to see all the results.
In the early days of the Web, often you would find Web sites that consisted almost entirely of lists of links to other pages. People would post their personal bookmarks or their carefully constructed lists of pages on particular topics. But every day new Web sites are created and old ones go away and webmasters change the addresses of particular pages. So extensive hand-created lists soon go out of date.
Now, as a low-maintenance alternative, you can construct a query at AltaVista which produces similar results, and put a link from your page to that particular query, so visitors at your site who click on that link will get the latest results.
This works because AltaVista generates a unique URL for each and every search. When you do a search at AltaVista, you can bookmark that page (add to "favorites" in Microsoft-speak); then when you click on it later you'll get fresh results. You can also copy the URL of a particular search and make a link to it.
Hence, you could put a whole set of AltaVista search links on your pages, saying, "if you are interested in X, click here". You can carefully construct specific queries designed to be helpful to your audience, and anyone clicking on such a link will get the latest results, without you having to go to the work of updating anything by hand. (The Tracerlock service, noted above, takes advantage of that same capability).
If you want to learn more about how to construct useful queries, check the AltaVista tutorial at my site www.samizdat.com/tutorial, or the one I wrote for AltaVista itself, which you'll find in their Advanced Search area.
As you build lots of pages with lots of content -- which should be your goal -- you'll eventually get to the point where your sitemap is so big it's unwieldy, and it's not easy for your visitors to find what they want at your site.
Remember, you can do a search for host:yourdomainname or url:yourfullwebaddress to see every page from your site that is in the AltaVista index. If you are disciplined and add each and every new page and also submit every page that you make a significant change to, then AltaVista should have a complete set of your pages.
That means that anyone could do a
search at AltaVista for
+host:yourdomainname or +url:yourfullwebaddress followed by the query words and phrases they are interested in, and AltaVista will restrict that search to your site.
That also means that if you do a search
or +url:yourfullwebaddress you can bookmark (favorite) that page, or you can copy the URL of that results page and use it to create a link from your site.
Make a such a search link from words such as these: "Click here to launch a search at AltaVista and to search for only pages at this site. Just add your query after what you see there in the box." When visitors click on that link, they'll connect to AltaVista, and the query +host:yourdomainname or +url:yourfullwebaddress will already be in the box. They just need to add the rest of the query to perform a search that is limited to your site.
Now I produce the same effect using a search box that I get from AltaVista's affiliate program. That way every time someone uses this method to search through the pages at my site I get a two cent credit. (Last quarter that amounted to over $400). We'll talk about affiliate programs like that in Chapter Nine.
As an alternative, you may wish to use
the site-specific search services of one of the following:
When you sign up, they give you code for you to add to your pages (like with an affiliate program). That code generates a copy of their search box on your pages. They will then regularly crawl your Web site to update the information about your pages in their index. And when visitors search using that search box, the search is restricted to your site.
When you have new information or products that supercede content that you have at your site, leave the old content where it is, and link (with appropriate explanations) from it to the new pages with the latest and greatest information. That way customers who have seen the older information or products or have heard good things about them, will have an easy path to follow to learn about what's new.
Perhaps you believe that posting fresh content every day or every week will keep your site interesting and encourage visitors to return. Fine. But when you add new content, give it a new, unique address, and don't throw away the older material or change its URL, by moving it to an archive directory. Yes, it might be convenient to keep plugging new content into old URLs (e.g., www.retailstore.com/specialtoday.html), and to clean out old material, like useless debris. But you need to think first of the convenience of your users. When you move files around, you make it difficult for people who have seen them before to find them again; and you throw away whatever traffic search engines might have brought to you.
Also, don't use an old URL for new, totally unrelated content. Otherwise, you'll annoy people who come looking for one thing and find something different.
If you absolutely, positively need to take a page down -- for instance because of gross errors, then you should use the command link: followed by the Web address of the dead page to find out what Web pages have hyperlinks to it. Then send email to the Webmaster of sites that have links to those pages and ask them to update their links.
Also, go to the major search engines and resubmit the page that no longer exists. Their crawlers will return with a 404 error message, indicating that the page no longer exists. In most cases, that should be enough to remove the old page, in their normal updating cycle. Otherwise, an embarrassing typo or error that happens to appear in the HTML title or the first couple lines of text might be perpetuated indefinitely in their indexes.
Google is an exception. They archive all the Web pages that they index. If someone does a search at Google and a page on a list of matches no longer exists, the user can request that page from Google's archive. To remove a page from that archive, you need to make a special request.
First, if you want to use robot exclusion, check with your hosting service. Some Web server software has a directory indexing feature. If that feature happens to be "on", then any crawler that comes to you site could grab everything right out of the index, even if you had set up for robot exclusion.
Then create a simple text file called robots.txt
To exclude all crawlers from all of
your pages, enter:
To exclude just the AltaVista crawler
(known as "Scooter") your file should read:
To limit the exclusion to a particular directory or file, put that address after Disallow:
Then use FTP to upload that robots.txt file to the same place where you put your Web pages.
You can also use Metatags to exclude crawlers from particular pages. For example, if you add the following line to the header of one of your Web pages, the crawler will not add this page to the index and will not follow the links it finds there. <META name="robots" content="noindex, nofollow"> To add such text to one of your pages, open the page in Word or whatever other authoring tool you normally use; and click on View, then HTML source. Put this line in the area between <head> and </head>
Excluding search crawlers from
particular files can give you a way to assert some control
over the visitor's experience at your site. For instance, if
you wanted to hold a trivia contest, you could put robot
exclusion on the pages with the answers; so people wouldn't be
able to find those pages randomly -- they'd only find the
pages with the questions.
Those businesses have staked out broad territories and, in some cases, use sophisticated technology to accomplish their ends. With your site, you might want to target a narrow, well-defined niche and serve it well by simple means that are within your budget and your capabilities.
Such environments build on the old Internet culture of sharing and helping with no expectation of payment. It's a culture of pull rather than push, where unsolicited mailings are taboo. If you invite people to come to your Web site, and make it interesting and useful enough, they will not only come, they will return, and bring their friends. To be successful with such a business model, you need to understand the old Internet culture, respect it, and work within its bounds.
participate in the "Business on the Web" chat program
set up your own forum or regularly scheduled chat
The Internet isn't an alternative to human contact (like a one-player videogame), but rather enables human contact -- removing such constraints as shyness and self-consciousness, and barriers like physical distance. Many people have problems initiating or engaging in face-to-face conversation with strangers. They feel vulnerable, and have learned to be cautious. They may be wary of what they say even to friends, for fear of how it might affect their relationship. Online, you can have a wide variety of relationships -- from simple asking and answering questions to building business partnerships and emotionally intimate relationships, without feeling the same sense of risk that you would in the physical world. You can build businesses around Web environments in which people can interact in these new ways, with a focus on particular niche subject areas.
Imagine a series of concentric circles, like the orbits of planets in a solar system. People-to-people interaction is in the middle, with the gravitational/attractive force of the sun.
Next comes the circle of free information -- everything that libraries, educational institutions, governments and well-meaning individuals and companies have made available.
Next comes the Value-Added Services zone. This includes information by paid subscription and all the tools and services that help you find just what you want when you want it. People are willing to pay more to get less -- if it's just what they want. Even if the raw information is free, it can be worth a lot to be able to find the right information when you need it. This could include access to specialized databases, participation in specially staged on-line events -- including opportunities to interact with celebrities and experts, participation in on-line training/distance education courses, opportunities for multi-media personal interaction, and mixed media services (combining Internet use with CD ROM, telephone, radio, or television). The list keeps getting longer.
The farthest circle is the realm of transactions, where people buy and sell ordinary goods by credit card. The goods are branded and available through many different sources, both offline and online. People shop for convenience and price. Competition is intense. Loyalty to a particular vendor is slim.
In other words, the gravitational pull of the Internet as a whole is toward users interacting with one another and toward the rich resources of free information. In building your online business, you should try to take advantage of that tendency rather than fight it.
Try to create a Web site that not only provides information but also acts as a place for visitors to talk to one another, share their insights, express their opinions, and help one another. You can do this simply by inviting reactions to the articles that you post, and including those reactions in the form of on-line Letters to the Editor. You can also take advantage of the free facilities of such sites as Topica and Yahoo's eGroups to build your own email and Web-based discussion areas. You can schedule regular events, with invited guests, in free chat rooms. And you can use summaries and simple links from your main Web site to tie together this wide range of activities that actually take place at multiple sites.
With some business models, your value added might include your editing and selection -- choosing just the right remarks from participants to highlight and to encourage reaction to. In other business models, you keep the raw input expecting that, as with talk radio, for certain subject matter, the candid comments of ordinary people in the audience can be compelling.
Don't interpret this advice as a formula for easy success. You are competing with millions of other Web sites for the attention of visitors. Your competition is just a click away. It takes considerable dedication and creativity to provide real value and earn the loyalty of your audience. But it need not take much in the way of money and technology.
You could start with a controversial article aimed at a targeted audience. For instance, I posted "DEC, not Digital: doing the right thing. An experiment in human engineering", the introduction to a book I plan to write. I received many replies to that piece and posted the best 50 or so with the original article, providing a much broader range of perspective and opinion, and much more detail than the original article itself. The fact that you post responses helps elicit more responses, from people who would like to have their opinions heard not just by you, but by the audience they presume your page has generated.
But don't focus too narrowly. If you have a variety of interests and would be happy to have your site and its audience grow in a variety of directions, post diverse material and add new material based on the response you are getting -- both in terms of traffic and in terms of feedback. As mentioned earlier, a random article of mine about Halloween, www.samizdat.com/hallow.html, turned out to be very popular. And in making plain text versions of public domain books available, I discovered that they were very important not so much to teachers (my first target audience) as to the blind, who could read them with text-to-voice converters.
Whenever you add responses to one of your articles, go back to the search engines -- or at least to AltaVista, which is the most prompt in entering new material -- and resubmit the page. The added content should mean that your page gets found more often and that you should get more responses, leading to more content and more traffic.
When you start getting so many replies that manual editing of static documents becomes tedious, that's time to consider using software designed to make online interaction easy to manage.
When you shift to this realm, you can use the replies you've already received to jump-start the discussion. People are much more likely to get actively involved when they see interesting and provocative content and lots of participation from other readers.
Check the free forum offerings at delphi.com, multicity.com, or (if your interest is educational) at nicenet.org. Delphi boasts "Over 2 million registered users. 80,000 active Forums. 50,000 messages each day. 10 million+ total messages."
At Delphi, first click on Help for detailed instructions and lots of practical advice on how to set up and run your own discussion areas.
Because everyone doesn't have to be connected to the Internet at once (as is the case with chat rooms), forums let you carry on discussions across barriers of time as well as space. Your crazy schedule and time zone differences needn't get in the way of discussing recipes or disk drives with anyone, anywhere. And you don't need to hurry your response -- you can think about it for days, weeks, maybe for months before posting. You can go back at any time to see what you said and what others replied. And you can point others to the site to see what's there and join in.
QuickTopic.com offers another very interesting alternative. You can post your article at their site using their utility to upload it from your hard drive. They automatically add "comment" markers at the beginning of each paragraph. You can remove any of those markers or add new ones. Once you have approved the look of your page, visitors can click on those markers to view what others have said or to post their own reactions there. They give you a unique URL which you can tell friends about by email or can link to from your pages. This can be as private or as public as you want. For an example, check http://www.quicktopic.com/7/D/PxSrLHbs5xFD.html, where I've posted an article of mine entitled "The Power of Words on the Internet -- Content-Based Internet Marketing." Please feel free to comment.
As an alternative, consider using the free facilities of QuickTopic, Topica, eGroups (groups.yahoo.com), or Quickdot.com They provide the means for automated list management (people add and subtract themselves, without you having to be involved). And the same discussion content can be made available both by email and on the Web in forum-style. All those sites are set up to help people like you get started, with easy-to-use software, clear explanations, and abundant help.
In contrast, chat software allows
numerous people to exchange text messages simultaneously in
the same "session." Chat is often used for quick, casual,
anonymous one-liner conversation. As soon as you type your
message, it's available for others in the same session to
read. When a dozen or more people actively participate at the
same time, it gets very difficult to read what is said and
even more difficult to follow the multiple threads of
conversation. You need to read fast and type fast, but if you
do, and if the topic is up
your alley, the experience can be exhilarating and stimulating -- whether you are flirting or flaming or brainstorming.
The problem with forums is a matter of human nature -- we tend to procrastinate. We know that we can post and read there anytime that we want, so there is no urgency. If a conversation really gets going, then the momentum can carry it along. But it is often difficult to get that kind of interactivity going. The discussion needs to reach some critical mass before it becomes compelling. Yes, we intend to participate, just like we intend to follow through on New Year's resolutions; but more often than not, it just doesn't happen.
Chat on the other hand has immediacy. When a chat topic is scheduled for a particular time, you either connect, or you miss it. Chat also can generate energy and enthusiasm and stimulate useful ideas because of the element of live interaction.
In other words, the tool you need depends on the job you want to do.
There are two different varieties: IRC [Internet Relay Chat] (the chat rooms you can find by way of Liszt.com) and Web-based chat. IRC requires that the user install separate software. Also, in most cases, people who are behind "firewalls" -- security shields erected by companies or individuals to protect their systems from hackers -- cannot participate in IRC chat, unless settings are changed in the firewall (which corporate security people will rarely change). In other words, if you want to appeal to a business audience, avoid IRC chat. Web-based chat often only requires a browser, though sometimes users may need to quickly download a little "plug-in" program for their browser. Typically, Web-based chat works fine, regardless of firewalls.
Also, the free public chat rooms provided by major portals like Yahoo (chat.yahoo.com) and discussion sites like Delphi and Multicity are typically temporary. You create them when you want them, and they go away when they are inactive. And they typically do not give you a way to save the transcript of a session.
If you want to experiment and practice or hold informal meetings, the free chat rooms may be just fine. But if you want to set up a regularly scheduled chat event as an important part of your business, you'll probably want to pay for professional-quality service.
My favorite discussion software company is Sitescape, www.sitescape.com, which has a hosted service at www.webworkzone.com That's where I hold my weekly chat sessions about Business on the Web, and also where I have my Bootcamp forum area, for discussion related to this book. I hold my chats on Thursdays from noon to 1 PM, US Eastern Time (that's GMT -5 during standard time, and GMT -4 during daylight savings time). Please join in to get a feel for this environment and also to ask questions related to the subject matter of this book. For details on how to connect, as well as edited transcripts of previous sessions (dating back to June 1996), go to www.samizdat.com/chat.html Also, please feel free to participate in the Bootcamp forum at www.webworkzone.com/bootcamp
SiteScape Forum was originally developed at Digital Equipment, by people with whom I worked in the Internet Business Group, back in the early days of the Web. It is a very robust and rich piece of software. I love it not just because I am familiar with it, but also because many of its features reflect suggestions that I expressed to the developers along the way. It is the practical fulfillment of the most important items on my discussion-software wish list.
What are those items?
The user only needs a browser (nothing to download).
Designed for peer-to-peer discussion (where everyone has the right to speak at any time, without the intervention of a moderator or facilitator).
Threads of discussion clearly visible while the chat is going on (you can click on the message you are replying to, so participants see the relationship of one message to another).
Transcripts automatically saved (so you can later review what was said, and also as content to add to your Web site, to attract more traffic).
Transcripts viewable in threaded form (by topic, rather than just by the time of postings).
Content in transcripts searchable (SiteScape Forum has AltaVista search software built in, for searching locally through all of your discussion areas. The pages are also well-constructed for being indexed by public search engines, if you so wish. Many other discussion solutions do not make this possible. As a test, cut and paste the URL of a forum-style posting in the ADD URL area at AltaVista and see if the crawler can find that page).
Both chat and forum capabilities in the same environment, so you can continue the discussion or post followups late, without the time-urgency of chat.
Users can display all messages, not just the current few.
Viewer controls the pace at which messages appear (Some chat software displays each messages as it is entered; but in an active session the messages can fly by faster than you can read them. SiteScape Forum normally refreshes automatically at fixed intervals, but gives me the option to click Pause, and then Resume to set my own pace.)
I've comfortably managed chat sessions at SiteScape with as many as two to three dozen live participants. In addition to my weekly chats, I've used it for business meetings, for online consulting sessions, and for course-related discussions (including office hours) in distance education.
If price is no object for you, you should consider Webex for professional online meeting services. They are set up to handle events of all sizes and kinds. If you have a large company, you can engage their services by subscription. Otherwise, you can sign up for their pay-per-user service, for which they now charge 35 cents per minute per user. That might make sense if you are holding a half hour meeting with a couple of other people. In that case, you'd wind up paying $21. (Even then, you might have been better off with long-distance telephone). Webex might also make sense if you hold a chat with a celebrity or expert and charge your audience to participate. Then, if demand is high enough, you can insist on your customers signing up in advance and can charge them enough to make a comfortable profit beyond the Webex charges.
If you are planning a very large event -- up to 2500 people in an "auditorium style" environment -- with PowerPoint slides and voice and streaming video, as well as text chat, you should consider Placeware, www.placeware.com But for optimum performance in their environment, the participants need fast Internet connections and powerful PCs; and, in some cases, firewalls can present problems.
You might also want to consider the paid services and related marketing offered by ArsDigita www.arsdigita.com, TalkCity www.talkcity.com, or Yack www.yack.com
You can find dozens of other related services, by searching at Yahoo or Open Directory http://dmoz.org. But if you have a serious interest in building a business around online discussion, you should ask for advice from participants in the eModerators discussion list at Yahoo's eGroups. To subscribe, just send email to eModeratorsemail@example.com. Their discussion focuses on distance education, but much of the experience shared there is of value for any kind of online discussion. Also check the related "Resources for Moderators and Facilitators of Online Discussion" at www.emoderators.com/moderators.shtml
That's one of the major advantages of online interaction as opposed to automated processes. Automated processes need to be clearly, carefully, and completely defined to meet every eventuality. Interactive encounters can take place in a loose framework, with people setting and following agreed-upon rules, rather than being forced, robot-like, down a single path.
For instance, you might schedule a guest expert, and anticipate more participants than you could normally manage in a peer-to-peer environment (with everybody having the right to post whatever they want whenever they want). You want questions to go through the guest or a facilitator helping the guest, rather than appearing randomly on the screen. You'd like to control the pace of discussion. You'd like the online equivalent of having people raise their hands. For that, you could go to a specialized service that is setup for auditorium-style chat. Or you could simply set a rule that if you want to be recognized, you should post a message consisting only of a question mark ? and wait to be recognized by the guest/facilitator. Then if it turns out that you don't have as many visitors as you anticipated, or they don't have many questions, you can simply rescind the rule, and encourage peer-to-peer style postings.
For example, you can set up:
Open chat rooms -- live unscheduled chat sessions with random or self-selected sets of participants.
Interest-based chat rooms -- live unscheduled chat sessions, with separate rooms for participants with different tastes and interests.
Celebrity events -- where a public audience gets an opportunity to interact with a celebrity at a scheduled time. This can be auditorium-style, with a small percentage of questions submitted ever reaching the celebrity. Or it could be partitioned, with a small number of people paying to actively participate and a larger audience in read-only mode.
Team meetings -- for invitees only, with registration and password protection, held at a fixed time and following an agenda.
Distance education/training sessions -- linking teachers and students, with the teachers controlling the direction of the discussion and setting the rules for participation.
Product support and help desks -- unscheduled chat where people with problems and questions connect to get immediate answers from experts.
"Business chat" -- (the way I use the term) scheduled public discussion where business people share their experience and knowledge with peers. The host invites expert guests, sets the agenda, and facilitates the discussion. All are welcome to join in and all have equal status. All can post at any time; all can ask; and all can answer.
As you plan and build your chat
program, don't limit what you do to what today's software
makes easy. Do what will help your audience and promote
discussion, and bring you business value, regardless of the
tedious work involved. Your business needs should drive the
technology, not vice versa. The more you know first-hand about
the headaches and the benefits of business chat, the better
you'll be able to pick what's right for you as more powerful,
easier-to-use software and services become available.
If you keep selling there for a month or more, you can learn some important lessons about ecommerce.
First, you should learn the value of feedback and reputation and relationships. eBay links buyers and sellers, who then contact one another by email and postal mail to take care of details and make payment and deliver the goods. eBay also has a very effective feedback mechanism. Any member can leave feedback -- positive, neutral or negative -- about any other member. That feedback becomes the basis of your community reputation and has an enormous effect on the number of bids you get for the items you sell and how high the prices go.
When I started selling old comic books at eBay, I was getting an average of $2-3 each. After a month, after I'd built up a few dozen positive feedbacks, I was getting $10, $20, even $30 for comparable comics.
If I had used automated transaction software to sell those same comics, it would have saved me time and hassle, but I would never have built relationships and reputation, and I'd have just kept getting $2-3 each.
Successful ecommerce isn't about automated transactions. It's about relationships.
"Relationship" isn't just an intangible concept -- it can directly effect the demand and price for your products and services.
Set up your online business accordingly.
Make it people-intensive rather than automated.
Remember the circle model discussed in Chapter Seven. Go for the center (where people interact with people), rather than the outer orbits with automated selling of branded goods, facing high competition and getting low margins.
First we'll step you through the details of successfully selling at eBay, because you have to actually do this to fully learn the lesson -- reading about it is not enough. Then we'll discuss the importance of building relationships for online business. Last, we'll consider other auction-like business models that don't necessarily involve relationship building.
sell at eBay
buy and sell at swap sites
buy and sell at half.com
First, don't be confused by the name. Online auctions have very little in common with traditional face-to-face auctions.
Second, not all addictions are bad. Buying can be a bad addiction, if you have limited funds. But selling can be a good addiction: I'd like to get my whole family hooked on it, and you as well. This is good news that's fun to spread.
At an online auction, you compete with other individuals for the right to purchase goods, and you set the price by bidding against one another. But there is no auctioneer, and you don't have to show up at a particular physical place at a particular time, and you don't have to wait patiently while other items are sold until the one you want is put on the block. Literally millions of items are on sale auction-style over the Internet every minute of every day.
The rules for how to bid are set by the hundreds of different Web sites that run auctions, and the time frame and deadline for the sale of each of these items is set by the individual sellers. Some auctions last weeks, others just 30 minutes. And the "online" aspect, rather than distancing people and making a social phenomenon machine-like, actually makes it more personal, and more immediate.
When you bid for something you really want at an online auction, you may feel like you are gambling at slot machines, or feel the rushing excitement similar to the final minute of a close-scoring football game.
People who have never met and who live thousands of miles away from one another can get caught up in a bidding frenzy; and the highest bidder, in a rush of pride and adrenalin, may be ready to shout "I won!" regardless of whether the final bid was a bargain.
Designed to quickly turn overstocked inventory into cash, these sites often go out of their way to heighten the excitement and draw buyers back. Some hold "flash auctions" which begin and end in a very short time period, rather than lasting for days or weeks, which is common at sites where individuals sell to one another. For instance, at Egghead www.egghead.com you can try Express Auctions, which last for only one hour, with all bidding (even on merchandise worth hundreds of dollars) starting at just $1. These auctions run from 5 AM to 10 PM (Pacific Time). At FirstAuction www.firstauction.com you will find "Flash Auctions" where the first bid also starts at $1, and the auction lasts 30 minutes plus "overtime" (the bidding keeps going until a five-minute period elapses in which no one places a new bid). Such setups can easily create a bidding frenzy.
Before letting yourself try this kind of auction, consider how good you are at stopping after the first potato chip, the first drink, the first cigarette... Here you are tempted by the opportunity to buy at ridiculously low prices. But once you get started bidding, you may lose sight of the price, as you strive to "win" -- like stuffing one quarter after another into a slot machine, hoping that this next bid will be the one that takes you over the top. There's a risk you could wind up buying things you don't want or need, or even pay more than the retail price. But if you can maintain self control, you can find bargains and hard-to-find collectibles -- along with enjoying the exhilarating experience.
Experience an auction of this kind and you'll never think the way you did before about pricing and selling.
Millions of people gather at eBay, and
on a typical day more than five million items are for sale. In
number of users and in diversity of content, it is comparable
to the entire Internet back in 1994, in the early days of the
Web. With thousands of categories and related community
discussion areas, it resembles newsgroups -- linking people
with common interests, in an open, anarchic, self-regulating
f you thought ecommerce required expensive computers and software and large technical staffs, think again. To piggyback your efforts on a service like eBay, all you need is merchandise to sell. You can make a living selling at eBay, conducting "ecommerce" without even having your own Web site, without even having an Internet connection or a computer of your own, if you can occasionally use public-access computers in places like libraries.
eBay isn't a Web site or a store or even an auction house, in the traditional sense. There is no auctioneer, no master of ceremonies. And eBay does not act as the proxy for any seller. It's like a massive electronic flea market or bazaar.
You might be overwhelmed by the immensity of eBay, get lost, not know how to begin to sell here. It's easier than it looks.
Then read eBay's explanations of its processes and charges. There is a non-refundable "insertion" fee for placing an item on sale, which ranges from 30 cents to $3.30, depending on the minimum opening bid that you set for your auction. When an item sells, you and the buyer contact one another by email and arrange for shipment. In your posting, you should make it clear that the buyer will pay for shipping, and indicate the amount. The buyer sends you a check or credit card number (if you have a merchant credit card account). You send the merchandise. At that point eBay charges to your account a Final Value Fee, which for most kinds of merchandise ranges from 1.25% to 5% of the final sales price.
After delivery of the goods, the buyer and seller may input feedback about one another, which then serves as a reference for future buyers who might want to get other things from you. It's a good idea to describe your merchandise with great honesty and detail, mentioning any and all defects, and to ship immediately. High ratings can be very important for future sales. The environment here is like the old pre-Web Internet -- self-regulating, with lots of sharing, and candid comments. If you are accurate in your descriptions and prompt in your deliveries, the system will work in your favor.
For starters, pick one kind of goods to focus on -- something that you know very well. I began with children's books. Within that category, start with items that you know won't sell for very high prices. Save items that might generate competitive bidding until you have built up feedback and perfected your pitch -- you could end up making considerably more that way.
Sell one test item, with a low minimum bid to get used to how the system works. Deliver it instantly when sold. Encourage the buyer to post positive feedback for you.
Once the feedback is online, add listings for many more of the same kind of thing, using your previous posting as the starting point. (For low-priced items, it's important not to waste too much time entering your information.). People bidding on one of these items will probably want similar things as well and will want to consolidate shipments, to save shipping costs, which otherwise might be higher than the cost of the item itself. Mention in each of your descriptions that you have other similar items for sale and would be willing to consolidate shipments. That incentive helps generate interest and pushes the bids higher. When you have 10 positive feedbacks, you get a gold star; after 100 a blue star; 500 purple; 1000 red. These symbols attest to your credibility and reliability, and are very important to bidders.
When you first post items for sale, a sunglasses ("shades") icon appears next to your name. That symbol indicates that you are either a newcomer or you have changed your online name recently, perhaps because of a bad reputation. "Shades" are a warning sign, indicating "Buyer beware. We, in this community, don't know who this guy is." After one month, you lose your "shades". By then, too, you should have some good feedback -- at least a gold star. That's a good time to start experimenting with other categories of goods.
While some people like to browse through categories and sub-categories and sub-sub-categories, others simply click on "Search" and enter words that they'd expect to find in the titles of items they are interested in.
To get started as a seller, you should think what words you would use in the title for your item and search for those words, then click on a variety of items in the list of matches to see what categories they are listed in, how they are described, what kinds of starting prices are typical, how much bidding activity they are getting, and whether the category or other evident factors appear to affect the level of bidding.
If you discover that some individuals have multiple items listed in the same category, search by user name to see the range of what they have on sale, and to see if they list the same kind of thing in just one or several different categories.
Also, see if some individuals are bidding for many different items of the same kind. If so, then search by bidder name and see what you can determine about what draws these heavy buyers to one item rather than another.
For new and nearly-new consumer goods, the category is likely to be very important -- just as it is in navigating through a department store. But for collectibles, the category often doesn't matter because so many buyers use search to find what they want.
In other words, try to pick a category that will help your sale, but don't over-estimate the importance of category. In some cases, buyers, using Search, will find you regardless of where at eBay you hide your auction. And, also, if your item doesn't sell the first time around, you can always relist it in a different category.
Think of eBay as made up of numerous sub-communities: collectors and buyers of particular kinds of things. Over time, these people build relationships with one another through email messages to one another and other online contact.
Their expectations of one another depend on their common experience. The behavior of newcomers (people with little or no feedback) is likely to be unpredictable, while that of the veterans will be more consistent. The newcomer might misinterpret a standard description of the quality and condition of an item, and be disappointed with a purchase even though the seller was quite precise and accurate. On the other hand, a newcomer might bid far higher on an item than an old timer -- not knowing what such items have sold for in the past and how frequently such items are likely to appear again for sale.
You might be reluctant to sell at eBay, even though there is an enormous audience of potential buyers there, because you are afraid that your item will get lost among the millions of others posted there. You might think that you would do better at a focused auction site, devoted just to the kind of thing that you have to sell -- such as baseball cards or comic books. In my experience, that is not the case.
For instance, selling comic books at eBay, I got many bids from people who had no specific interest in comic books at all. They were searching for "dogs" or "Disney" or something else that they avidly collect, and my comics happened to have the right words in the title. If I were selling at a comics-only auction site, I'd never get bids from those kinds of buyers. And those buyers, because they are unfamiliar with prices in this particular category, arriving here tangentially, are likely to bid out of all proportion to what you'd get from regular collectors with experience in this sub-community of eBay and with ready access to reference books about prices for this kind of collectible. Remember, you don't need for millions of people to see your item. All it takes is two enthusiastic bidders to raise the price beyond rational levels.
This buyer behavior means that the words in your title are probably more important than the category you choose. Remember, as a default, eBay's search engine only looks at words in the title. The searcher can choose to search through the description as well, but there's no telling how many people click on that option.
In the real world, you sometimes rely on word-of-mouth reputation, but far more often you think in terms of brand name. Yes, brand is based largely on paid advertising. But what matters in that context is not so much what the companies say about themselves in those ads as the fact that the companies are large enough and prosperous enough to advertise. That means that you should have no problem finding them if you have a question or problem related to your purchase.
At people-to-people auction sites, whether buying or selling, you often deal with individuals you have never met, and never had any dealings with before, and never heard of before. In theory, feedback comments are indications of trustworthiness, like word-of-mouth reputation. And the star labels that eBay gives based on cumulative ratings are a makeshift form of community-based brand.
Both for fear of shame and for practical reasons -- not wanting people's distrust of you to interfere with your ability to make deals -- the community-based ratings system means both buyers and sellers have good reason to deal fairly with everyone, and even to go out of their way to make sure that everyone they encounter has good reason to think well of them.
I find that for low-cost items (under $20), people at eBay tend to be very trustworthy. My policy, (which is counter to what nearly everyone else there seems to do) is to ship the merchandise immediately upon receipt of the buyer's address. I don't wait for payment. Often I receive payment days after the buyer has received the goods. That practice of mine gets me lots of superlative feedback fast, which raises the bids on everything I post, makes the whole selling cycle move much faster, and gets me lots of repeat sales.
There's no quicker way to build someone's trust than to trust them -- immediately, with no strings attached.
The typical eBay seller waits for arrival of a check or money order, or even waits until the check has cleared. Shipping immediately means that the buyer gets the goods far more quickly and is also likely to be pleased by this unexpected sign of trust. The value of the positive feedback you are likely to get from such a policy is far greater than what you are likely to lose from the rare person who will try to cheat you (especially given the feedback system). If I can raise the average final bid for one of my items from $4 to $16 through trust, then even if I lost a few payments, the benefit would still be worth it.
For higher priced items, you need to weigh what you stand to gain with what you risk, and decide what makes sense for you.
The rating system also operates as a self-policing mechanism. People go out of their way to avoid negative feedback, and they are also very reluctant to give negative feedback, even when they believe strongly that it is deserved; because whoever they give that negative feedback might give negative feedback in return.
You could take issue with the eBay practice of lumping together all feedback -- both as seller and as buyer. An individual selling something might have a very impressive star, but may have earned that reputation entirely as a buyer -- never having sold before. And the fear of feedback retaliation seems to lead to a stalemate, with no one really saying what they think.
On the other hand, this stalemate in the formal feedback mechanism means that most misunderstandings and dissatisfaction are dealt with in the privacy of person-to-person email. And the threat -- even without the reality -- of negative feedback encourages everyone to be considerate, reliable, prompt, and accurate in their descriptions of what they have to sell.
In general, unless you have an extremely major gripe against someone, you should immediately enter positive feedback for every buyer, as soon as the transaction is done -- and send the buyer a quick email saying that you've given that feedback, which is a gentle reminder that you would appreciate feedback as well.
Particularly for used items and collectibles, the description of the condition/quality of the item is extremely important. The difference in value between a baseball card in "fair" or "good" or "fine" or "excellent" condition can be enormous. Sellers who have very little feedback will find that most bidders don't take them at their word, and assume that the condition is worse than the description indicates, and will bid cautiously. But sellers who have lots of positive feedback, and who have earned specific comments that praise the accuracy of the descriptions, will command top dollar. In this environment, as a seller, you benefit from being very conservative in your descriptions -- mentioning every little defect. That increases your credibility for that item, and at the same time makes it likely that the buyer will be pleased, helping to build your positive feedback.
For collectibles, what does feedback mean in terms of price? I sold several hundred comic books at eBay. When I started -- and had the "shades" to indicate I was a newcomer -- I only got bidders on about 30-50% of my auctions, and the final price was often the starting price: $3. After a month, the shades went away, and I was well over the 10 positive feedbacks needed for a "star". Soon comparable comics were generating prices of $15 to $30; and one sold for $120. The merchandise was similar. The descriptions and categories were the same. All that had changed was my reputation -- both in the formal feedback system and also in direct dealings with regular buyers, who saw that my descriptions were conservative and accurate and that I shipped immediately, and hence they went out of their way to find and bid on my auctions.
Along with the community-based reputation of feedback, you are building direct relationships with individual buyers. Someone who buys one thing from you may be interested in bidding in other auctions of yours. In the descriptions of your items, tell how you acquired each object. Be chatty and friendly as well as accurate and informative. Then include friendly questions and comments in your correspondence about payment and shipping. By so doing, you can uncover what else they are looking for, and why they collect what they collect. I've made deals for other items offline with eBay customers, based on their interests. You can also get clues as to how to better group, organize, and describe what you have to sell at eBay.
If you have many items that fall into the same general category, over time you develop your own niche -- establishing a reputation in that sub-community at eBay and perfecting your descriptions and email messages, based on what you've learned from your previous auctions and related correspondence.
Another side effect of selling at eBay is the people you meet. For instance, someone who bought a Wild Bill Hickok comic book from me had just sold a script to a TV network for a pilot for a series set in Deadwood. Someone else bought an old copy of Playboy because there was an Elvis Presley poster inside. The buyer is an avid fan, who legally changed her name to "Presley", bought a house next to Graceland, and moved there from New Jersey. She now makes a living selling Elvis-related memorabilia.
eBay allows you to set a "reserve" price in addition to the starting price. This is the minimum price at which you would be willing to actually sell the item, but the bidders do not know what that number is.
In theory, a low starting price will interest bidders, but, with the reserve, you protect yourself from letting the item go for too little. In practice, however, bidders hate auctions with reserve prices. It's frustrating to enter what you think should be the winning bid, only to discover that there was a reserve which is higher than your final bid, which means you don't win at all. Hence many bidders will not participate in auctions that have reserves.
You might want to test the market, by running an auction with a reserve to see how high the bids go. If they go over your reserve and the item sells, fine. But if not, at least you'll get an indication of the level of interest in your item. Then if you relist the item without a reserve and maybe with a low starting price, the bidding will probably go higher than it did with the reserve.
It's a lot easier to deal with prices when you have many similar items, and when you wouldn't mind selling a few for $2 or $3, as long as the average sale comes in at around $20 or $30. Then you can fine-tune your pricing over time, based on experience.
I put my starting prices as low as I can -- just a little more than break-even, given all the time involved in posting the description, communicating with the winner, then preparing, packaging, and shipping the goods. A low start attracts an early first bidder, and activity breeds more activity.
For many people, online auctions are entertainment. They get caught up in the excitement of competition. Hence you want to do whatever you can to attract a second bidder and a third -- to make it a contest. And a low starting price is an excellent way to get that rolling. For instance, one comic I sold for $34.00 had a starting bid of $2. Other similar comics that I posted with a start of $10 or even $6 got no bids at all. In other words, if you have enough items in the same category to build a niche for yourself, low starting prices are likely to bring you higher average final sales prices.
The vast number of participants at eBay makes this possible. It's a bit like brownian motion -- if you have enough bidders banging around and you have enough similar items for sale, the bidding on any individual item will be random, but over time the results for a large number of items will be predictable, and you can, with confidence, sell valuable items with very low starting prices.
But beware of seasonal variations. For many collectibles, activity at eBay drops precipitously over the summer. Keep a close eye out for the seasonal buying patterns associated with the kind of thing that you have to sell.
The market fluctuations for different kinds of goods tend to be different. Experiment to determine the optimum pattern/rhythm for what you have to sell, and adapt your behavior accordingly. Is spring, summer, fall, or winter best for you? Do you do better with auctions that end on weekdays or on weekends? If weekends, is Saturday or Sunday best? And what time of day do you want your auctions to end, to make it more likely that interested buyers will be connected during the final, potentially exciting and hectic moments of your auctions?
Also, what is the optimal length for your auctions? As of now, you only have four choices for the length of your auctions -- 3, 5, 7, and 10 days. Which works best for you?
People buying for hobbies and personal use are likely to connect evenings and weekends, or maybe over lunch break from work. People buying items for use at work, may prefer business hours.
Also, remember time zones. 6 AM on the East Coast of the US, pretty much rules out participation from the West Coast where the time would be 3 AM; but might be convenient for folks in London, where it is 11 AM. If you end auctions at around noon Eastern Time, that will allow Western Europe and California to get involved in last minute auction frenzy for your items.
Also, remember that the audience is global. If you have a potentially large market south of the Equator, the seasons are reversed there (winter there when summer here).
Selling collectibles, I do best with auctions that end on weekends -- Saturday a little better than Sunday. And 9 PM Eastern Time works best for me as an end time. For others who are selling new and refurbished merchandise, like digital cameras and computer gear, week days may be better than weekends.
Having done your calculations, the general setup at eBay makes it difficult to get the ending time you prefer. The time of day that you start is the time of day that you end. If you start your auction at 8 PM, it will end at 8 PM. So you have to plan ahead and post at the right time to get the right setup. And if you have dozens of items you want to post, it will be difficult to get them all in with an end time close to what you want.
You might be reluctant to do so with small (under $10) transactions, because the credit card processing companies take fees out of every transaction. But you are likely to get more bids from people outside the US for whom a credit card transaction is far simpler than getting an international money order or a check made out in dollars on a US bank, and because the credit card company handles the currency exchange. Whether they win or not, those bids drive up the price.
Credit card payments save you time and hassle. The payments go straight to your bank account, whereas a check or money order payment requires you to make and record bank deposits by hand -- which can be time-consuming if you are selling large numbers of low-cost items.
How do people pay you by credit card? In all probability, you do not have a secure encrypted ecommerce system of your own. But it is a simple matter for buyers to email you their credit card information -- number and expiration date. If they break that information up in a series of two or three email messages, that probably makes the transaction far more secure than giving your card to a waiter at a restaurant or telling it to an operator over an 800 number.
As my feedback rating and personal reputation at eBay grew, the percent of buyers who wanted to pay me by credit card climbed from zero to about 15%, with most of those credit card purchases coming from eBay veterans who have bought many items that way and have learned the value and convenience of trust.
We hear that many people are concerned about security in doing credit card transactions over the Internet. I see the opposite at eBay -- far greater levels of trust than you'd normally expect in the "real" world. About 10% of my customers send me cash through the regular postal mail -- including a customer in Germany who has no problem about sending $100-200 at a time that way. Some of these people don't have checking accounts, and don't want to go to the hassle of buying money orders. Others are overseas without credit cards, but with US currency. Rather than jump through hoops to come up with a secure and mutually acceptable payment method, they find it's simpler to just stuff the cash in an envelope.
If you don't have a merchant account, you can use eBay Online Payments. "Endorsed by Visa and backed by Wells Fargo...eBay Online Payments by Billpoint uses encryption technology ... to ensure that transactions are handled with the highest level of security and privacy." This service lets you accept credit card payments from 40 countries, as well as guaranteed electronic check payments (from US buyers). The service fee, however, is high. For their standard service, you pay 39 cents for sales under $10, and 39 cents plus 3.9% of the final sales price for sales $10 up to $500, which is the limit of what they will accept. (Remember that's in addition to eBay's fees). If you have eBay sales of greater than $1,000 per month, a minimum of six months on eBay, 96% or greater positive feedback rating, and good eBay account status, you can qualify for their merchant service, which has slightly lower fees (3.5%) and a higher limit ($2000).
Remember the cost of packaging as well as the postage, and also try to minimize the time that it will take you to package your item and drop it off for shipment.
If you have a choice, sell small items rather than large ones. Sell items that will fit in a standard size box that you could send parcel post, rather than selling furniture or pianos. And better still, in the US, sell items that will fit in a priority mail envelope (that the postal service gives away for free).
You can make special offers in your product description -- for instance, free shipping to anyone buying a certain number of items. Or you might, in follow up email messages to winners of your auctions, offer those individuals a special break on shipping costs on future purchases of theirs from you.
The importance of shipping cost as an incentive or disincentive varies widely. Some people will, without hesitation, pay shipping charges that are equal to the cost of the goods, or even double the cost, perhaps because the item you are selling is difficult to find or perhaps because the buyer lives in an isolated area. Other people will drive many miles to pick up the goods in person and thereby save a few dollars in shipping cost. Be flexible and understanding.
The cost of shipping a package that weighs less than four pounds is less than $10 to most countries, and (if you set your terms that way), the buyer pays shipping.
A picture's value for conveying information is over-rated -- in most cases, it is certainly not worth 1000 words. But the emotion conveyed can be very important when you are selling and especially when you are selling by auction, where price is not fixed, but rather is set by the irrational, emotional decisions of bidders.
Once I was able to take good digital photos of my comics, I found myself falling in love with some of those old comics, with their amazing cover art. It became hard for me to part with them. Fortunately, bidders fell in love with them, too.
Whatever you have to sell will probably sell better if you include a photo in your posting. You could take traditional photos and, when you get the film developed, request them in digital form, on diskette or on CD ROM. Or you could use a low-cost (about $35) webcam you plug into your PC for online two-way video, and save still images. But it's simplest if you use a digital camera.
If you've been itching to get a digital camera, this could be the excuse you've been looking for.
Set up a "studio area" -- with dark non-reflective background and lights set up the way you want them; so you only have to deal with those details once. Remember you are taking these pictures for a business purpose -- not art. You want a clear, sharp, appealing picture, but you can't afford to spend a lot of time getting it, unless your item is going to sell for a lot of money. For something that is likely to sell for under $10, you shouldn't spend more than two minutes taking the picture, and don't waste time editing it.
You can upload and store up to six photos on eBay. Or you can FTP as many photos as you want to your own Web space (for instance at NBCi) and just indicate the URL in your eBay auction insertion form.
There are some people who "shop" at auctions, wanting to get a good price for a quality item, but just wanting to get in and out with a minimum of hassle. Those aren't the folks you want to cater to. You want to appeal to the folks who enjoy the auction experience.
If you sell collectibles, you also want to tap into nostalgia. Many of today's online auction buyers are looking for items that they once possessed as children. In our society, many families move frequently, and parents typically throw out items that they believe are of no value or that they believe their children have grown out of. Years later, when those kids hit middle age, they have an urge to get back in touch with their past, and will go to great lengths to obtain long lost items they associate with their childhood.
Experimenting at eBay, I've discovered that the less the intrinsic value of a mass-produced object, the more likely it will become valuable over time as a collectible. Their lack of intrinsic value means that few people will save these items, which means that they will become rare. And the fact that they were mass-produced will mean that they are imprinted on the consciousness of many, and thus subject to nostalgia by association, and hence will be in demand.
As a result, I can get more money selling a fair-condition bottle cap than selling a 100-year-old book that's in fine condition.
Before eBay, there used to be a large gap between the prices a dealer could get selling to collectors and the prices an ordinary collector could get selling to a dealer. Now anyone who knows how to play the online auction game can sell at dealer prices. In fact, anyone with a little knowledge and ambition and online savvy can become a dealer -- buying and selling in the same online marketplace and serving the irrational but very real needs of those who want to buy a piece of their childhood past.
If you have your own Web pages, you might want to include links from there directly to each of your current auctions. As an alternative, use Search at eBay, to look for yourself as a seller. That brings you to a page with a list of all your auctions. Copy the resulting URL and make a hyperlink from one or more of your Web pages directly to that list -- that way you won't have to change links as auctions of yours end and start.
You might also want to add a line to
your email signature file with a link to eBay's list of your
f there are related newsgroups (check www.deja.com) or email discussion lists (check www.liszt.com) or forums (check www.forumone.com), consider posting brief notes about your auctions there (if that is appropriate behavior for that particular group). Or join in newsgroup discussions on topics related to the kinds of things that you are selling, and append to your postings your signature file with its link to your auctions.
If you send out paper communications about your business and your auctions are related to your business, be sure to mention your online auctions. Depending on how important this is to you, you might even include a brief plug in your voicemail message.
Even though the traffic at other
person-to-person auction sites like Yahoo (auctions.yahoo.com)
and Amazon.com is far less than at eBay, you might want to
post a few auctions there, and in the descriptions point
people to your similar auctions at eBay. Even if you don't get
many sales, the promotion value might make the postings worth
The gray zone -- be creative, but watch your step
As you begin to get creative in your promotion, some tactics will occur to you that eBay prohibits. Be sure to read the eBay community rules carefully.
Since eBay provides you with the email addresses of everyone who bids on any auction -- not just yours, you may be strongly tempted to build mailing lists of people interested in the kinds of things that you have to sell. For instance, you can click on "bid history" and get a list of the usernames/"handles" of all the bidders; then click on an individual handle and, after entering your own eBay username and password, see that person's email address. Don't go down that path. Never add anyone to an email list without their explicit permission. Otherwise, many recipients of your promotional messages are liable to consider them as "spam" -- unsolicited and unwanted advertising. Some may be mad enough to send you nasty messages in return, to remember you and not bid on your auctions in the future, perhaps to give you negative feedback at eBay, and perhaps to complain to eBay management, who frown on "misuse of bidder information." They don't want their members subjected to spam, and will take steps to prevent a recurrence.
Going through this mental exercise will help you realize that success in ecommerce comes from careful attention to all the logistical details, no matter how tedious, no matter how boring.
Posing the question another way, what is the lower limit, for you personally, at which you can handle auction sales profitably? An average price per item of $10, $5, $3, even $1? It all depends on how quickly and efficiently you can handle all the steps from posting the item (complete with picture) to shipping it and even depositing the check in your bank account. Don't get stuck working like crazy, selling lots of stuff, and losing money, or losing so much time that it's the same as losing money.
First consider how you organize and group your items at eBay. If you sell them one at a time, the average final price on your auctions will be so low that the 25 cent posting fee will eat up much of it. Also, the time it takes you to post an item and deal with all the details of the transaction are the same whether you sell a single bottle cap or a batch of a hundred. So what is the optimum size of a batch -- to attract bidders, have a reasonable end price, get enough money average per cap, and be able to handle all the logistics in a reasonable time with a minimum of hassle?
The photo will be an important factor in selling. So the batch size, in part, is limited by how many items you can show in reasonable size in a single digital photo taken with your particular camera. With my old Webcam, I could only show a maximum of about six bottle caps. With my new digital camera, I can, if I wish, handle three dozen.
However, you handle your records, be efficient and consistent, and be prepared to backtrack, given all the manifold ways that buyers may respond. For instance, some people won't respond to your email, but rather will send you a check with a postal note and their street address. Some just send the check, and the only indication of their address is on the check. You'll have to match the scanty information provided by postal mail with whatever online notes your have kept. Be prepared for the infinite and unpredictable variety of human response; but at the same time, keep your record keeping as simple and time-efficient as possible. And don't turn to automated techniques until you have had enough experience to determine if you really need them and if they will actually cover the variety you are likely to encounter.
How efficiently you can handle the record keeping will determine how many separate auctions you can maintain at a time. I found that with my home-grown paper-based techniques, I could handle a maximum about 100 simultaneous auctions -- each running for seven days, and with some ending each day of the week. At around that point, the sheer volume and the tedium of all the tasks involved started to become a serious burden, and it was time to consider special software for auction management. I was able to handle that many only because I had many customers who bought more than one auction item from me in the same week, often doing so in order to save on shipping charges. So 100 auctions might translate to less than 30 individual customers, and of those 30 maybe a dozen had done business with me before, and I might even have credit card information on file about several of them. Such repetition cuts down on the recording keeping, as well as the time involved in packing and shipping.
Also, remember your record keeping isn't just for your convenience and efficiency, it is also important for taxes. Keep track of all your expenses and all the money that comes in, and be consistent about how you record information. The IRS knows that people are making serious money through online auctions, and every sale of yours is permanently recorded at eBay, as part of their mechanism for collecting fees. So even though you aren't a dealer and are just selling old junk, it would be wise to report all your auction earnings on your income tax return (using Form C).
Think of eBay as an immense test market, where you can experiment again and again with the variables -- starting price, time frame, messages in description, and use of photos -- to make your auction sales more profitable and to learn lessons that you then apply to offline sales.
Also, the major online auction sites -- eBay, Amazon, and Yahoo -- have tens of millions of visitors. Hence, regardless of whether you actually sell anything there, you can get value by making your goods and services visible to this audience. Basically, for less than a dollar, you can insert your message in a catalog seen by millions.
In that sense, the Internet is not a market. Rather it is a communication vehicle connecting potential buyers to one another and to vendors. It is a means for creating markets.
An online community -- a loyal Internet audience -- is a set of people who will "reference each other when making a buying decision." By building a self-sustaining online community, you can build a new niche market.
For this approach to work, you need to
do more than just provide marketing information at your Web
site, and more than have your people interact with your
potential customers and partners. You also need to provide a
means for the members of your audience to interact with one
another, otherwise they won't "reference each other".
You can build a rudimentary community using email discussion, forums, and scheduled chat sessions, as described in Chapter Seven. In such an environment, people feel free to speak up not because they feel they are experts, but rather because they want to understand. They express their suspicions, inklings, instincts, and guesses, seeking discussion that will help refine, correct, and validate their thoughts.
Moore's "chasm" is a communication gap. You narrow it by getting people to talk to one another, to treat one another's ideas with respect, and to learn from one another.
Ideally, your community would welcome and involve (in Moore's terminology) technology gurus, visionaries, pragmatists, and conservatives -- all talking about matters of common concern and interest. And community interaction need not be just online, but rather could involve activities in physical stores, face-to-face meetings, and even formal training sessions.
In such a community, communication
isn't just "two-way", vendors talking to and listening to
partners and customers. Rather customers, potential customers,
and partners regularly and naturally talk to one another,
building relationships with one another.
n other words, when doing business on the Internet, focus on the relationship, not the transaction. Ease of handling secure online transactions is important only insofar as it is a convenience to the buyer. Other factors are often far more important in building and maintaining relationships with customers, and are probably far less expensive to implement than transaction systems.
Every sale that happens automatically, without human interaction, deprives you of the opportunity of building a closer relationship with the customer and encouraging the impulse purchase of other related items.
MrSwap.com specializes in music, movies, and videogames -- mass market merchandise. That limitation greatly simplifies their business. You know what you are getting, and know what it's worth. For popular items, you see many separate listings for each, meaning that you are likely to find the item you want at the condition and for price you want, quickly.
As a seller, you don't have to waste time describing your items or taking and posting photos, as you do at eBay. MrSwap already has photos on file, together with links to ratings, reviews, and additional information for all common music, movies, and games. You just indicate the condition and the price, and your listing for that item will appear on the same page with everyone else's.
They use an intermediary payment system -- SwapPoints -- to facilitate swaps. Instead of direct payment of cash between the parties, and instead of having to barter directly, where you have something another person wants and that person has something that you want (which could be difficult to work out), everybody deals with MrSwap. When you sell something, you get SwapPoints; and when you buy something, you spend SwapPoints. If you do more buying than selling, you can pay for SwapPoints from MrSwap at $1 a point.
Today, you get $5 in free SwapPoints for joining. You can use those points immediately to get whatever you want.
When you find an item you want, you request it by clicking the "Swap" button. MrSwap sends an email to the member who listed the item. If the seller confirms, MrSwap sends you an email confirming the deal. SwapPoints get transferred when the buyer confirms receipt.
Shipping is another unique aspect of dealing at MrSwap. They only handle limited kinds of merchandise, of known size and weight. When a swap is confirmed, they send a stamped pre-addressed envelope to the seller. The seller just puts the goods in the envelope and drops it in a mail box.
You pay for shipping and handling at the time you make your offer (by debit or credit card or by funds you previously deposited at MrSwap by check or money order). The transaction goes through when the deal is confirmed.
On the one hand, that mechanism simplifies matters. You don't have to concern yourself about getting envelopes that are the right size, and you don't have to go to the post office to get the package weighed and buy postage. But you end up paying MrSwap a small premium (the "handling" charge) on every item you buy. And their sending out the envelope means it takes longer for you to get what you want.
Like at eBay, there's a rating system. But here buyers just rate sellers, not vice versa, because MrSwap acts as the intermediary. The rating seems intended primarily to help keep people honest when they describe the condition of their goods. There's no back and forth between buyer and seller here. It's all simple and automatic.
At Half.com, you are sure that you will get what you want quickly and at a good price -- without the adventure and uncertainty of online auctions. Buying at Half.com is to buying at eBay, like buying a fish in the store is to going fishing.
Half.com is set up like a store, not an auction site. Their catalog contains just about all books, movies, and music produced in the last 20 years. Not everything is in stock, but most items are. (NB -- They recently added new categories -- computers, electronics, sporting goods, and trading cards. It may take them awhile to build their inventory in those areas.) But this isn't just an online secondhand store. Here the inventory is held not by Half.com but by tens of thousands of individuals like yourself. And when you buy, the owner sends the merchandise straight to you.
Their name is based on the typical price -- half or less than retail. All the merchandise is secondhand and is rated/priced based on condition. In many cases you can get "like new" quality, for a very good price. The sellers have agreed to ship within 24 hours of notification/confirmation of a sale, and most seem to do a good job of abiding by that. (Like at an auction site, buyers rate sellers on their performance. So those who sell regularly have incentive to make sure buyers are satisfied.)
You pick the items you want; agree to pay Half.com by credit card; an email goes to the seller who must confirm the sale; then you get confirmation, you credit card is debited, and soon you receive the merchandise. There is no bidding, no delays, no uncertainty. There is no need to exchange email with the seller. Everything goes quickly and smoothly, like with a retail store transaction, and the prices are very tempting. About a month after you buy a book, you'll get an email suggesting that if you've read it already, you might want to resell it now through Half.com.
For the seller too, Half.com is far more convenient to use than an auction. To list an item, all you need to do is enter the ISBN or UPC number (the standard codes found on all recent products of these kinds), and indicate the product's condition. The standard description and photo is already in the database. That means it usually takes just a couple of minutes to add your item at half.com, while it typically takes 15 minutes to 30 minutes to add an item at eBay.
Here pricing too is easy (as opposed to the guesswork and research involved in pricing at eBay). Half.com prompts you with a suggested price (usually half of retail) and tells you the price for other copies of the same item in the same condition currently on sale at Half.com and also at other retail sites. You name your price, and the item is added to their inventory. Someone searching for a particular item will see your copy (condition, price, and brief comments) together with information about all the other copies of that item now on sale at Half.com. And you don't need to collect payment from your customers -- Half.com does that for you and sends you a check once a month (every two weeks if you sell lots).
With this business model, Half.com can offer millions of items for sale without having to pay for or warehouse or even select any of the inventory. They also don't need to deal with fulfillment -- sellers package and ship their own merchandise. Also, Half.com gets paid upfront by credit card by the buyer -- the sales price plus a shipping charge. The seller gets the selling price plus an allowance for shipping costs, minus a commission of 15% of the selling price. The email notifications and confirmations are all automated.
It's a simple and powerful approach.
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The basic version of software (which runs on your PC) is free. You go to www.humanclick.com, download, and follow the installation instructions. You designate which page(s) you want covered. They have a way to automatically add their code to all your pages, or you can elect to put it on some but not others. In that case, they provide you with code that you need to copy and paste into the pages where you want it. That is relatively easy if you are using NetScape Composer or an older version of Word. Just open the page, View source, and paste the code where you would like it to appear. Then return to edit mode, saving your changes, and add whatever explanatory text you'd like before or after where the HumanClick graphic appears. If you normally use Word 2000, save a separate copy of your page, then to try to avoid the nightmare of automatically generated code, open this new copy in WordPad instead of Word. There you will see all the confusing code that Word has generated for this page before. Don't panic. Look/search for the familiar text of your page and paste the HumanClick code where you guess it should appear. Save the document, then open it as a local file in your browser to see how it looks. If you see the HumanClick graphic, you are in good shape. Experiment repeatedly until you make the graphic appear where you want it, together with text to help visitors understand what it is about and to encourage them to try it.
Once you've added the code and uploaded the new version of your page to your Web site, whenever someone goes to that page, a bell goes off on your PC, prompting you to launch HumanClick. At that point you can prompt the visitor to chat: you click the chat icon in your HumanClick toolbar, and the visitor sees a HumanClick image moving left to right across your page and back again, with the invitation "click to chat". Even if you don't send out such an invitation, the visitor sees a static HumanClick linked image that flashes "Need help? Click for a real person." If someone asks to chat, another bell goes off.
By way of the "Info" tab, you can glean
a few clues about the visitor:
the person's Internet host (which may be an indecipherable number, but may include a telltale company domain name, or a country code)
the page this person looked at most recently before coming here ("Referrer")
how long he/she has been looking at this page, and
how many other pages at your site he/she has just visited.
If the visitor came to your page directly from a search site, you can even see what they were looking for there (buried in the Referrer URL, you'll see the query terms).
You can use their management capabilities of the software to arrange for different people to cover different pages at your site.
If you need to leave your computer for a while, you can indicate either than you'll be "back in 5 minutes" or that you are "away". In either of those cases, or if you are offline, the visitor sees a different prompt -- an invitation and form to send a question or comment by email.
I've found HumanClick a very effective way to turn visitors into leads and customers.
Normally visitors see Web pages, and if they can't figure out what they need from what they see immediately, they go away. And, you, the Web site owner, never know that there was a problem or an opportunity. Now you have an alternative.
There is an enormous difference between an experience where the customer (unbeknownst to the vendor) picks up and looks at goods and messages, and one where the store people are aware of what the customers are looking at and can intervene.
In the old Web environment, you only had a lead if someone registered, or filled out a form, or initiated a transaction, or sent an email. And you had to depend on the pre-packaged content at your site to intrigue them and motivate them to do something.
With HumanClick, every page view is a nibble, and you or your people can immediately engage visitors in text chat to get them to nibble more, and eventually to hook them.
My HumanClick chats have been like fishing expeditions. Only about one in 10 or 20 visitors to my marketing page chooses to engage in chat. (I need to come up with better ways to encourage them to give it a try). But when they do chat, the conversations are almost always both interesting and valuable. In the best instances, I've hooked people, who if they were just looking at the static Web page would probably have moved on without contacting me. Other times I've had very interesting and informative conversations with people from all over the world.
So far, my most effective HumanClick sessions have been with people outside the US. The most memorable conversations were with a marketing manager for Cisco in Peking (at 3 AM), a freelance writer in France (who I then helped redesign his Web site to take full advantage of his content to attract traffic), and managers at El Norte, the largest newspaper in Mexico. Such chats sometimes turn into free sample consulting sessions, where I learn the interests and concerns of the prospective client, and the client gets a sense of my work style as well as how I might be able to help with the problem at hand. As a follow up, I now offer for-a-fee consulting through text chat rooms that I set up on request and through a voice chat room I've set up for free at Excite.
The range of what you can do to interact with customers keeps growing. In some cases, the free services are all that you need. In other cases, the free version gives you the experience you need to decide on a professional solution. In any case, now is a good time to experiment and figure out new ways to grow your business.
Affiliate programs are a form of "viral marketing" -- one company giving individuals and other companies incentives to help drive traffic to its site and spread the word about special offers. The company running the program wants you to add links from your pages to its pages, and also would like you to add related content to your site and do everything you can to draw attention to those links and encourage visitors to click on them. The incentive might be cash or credits of some kind. The link might be a text link or a linked graphic button or a banner ad or it could even be a form, for instance for search or automatic translation, that adds a useful capability to your pages.
Eventually, you might want to set up a small-scale affiliate/incentive program of your own, and personally recruit likely prospects. For now, you should join one or more affiliate programs of other companies, to get experience and insight into this phenomenon, while generating revenue or earning other benefits.
Amazon is a good place to start. They were the first company to set up a large, successful, affiliate program on the Web. Today, a search at AltaVista for +link:amazon.com -host:amazon.com shows that there are over 32 million Web pages outside of the Amazon site with links to pages at Amazon. Those links are an important part of Amazon's amazing success and brand-recognition. Not all of those pages are part of the affiliate program, but many are.
To sign up, go to www.amazon.com, and at the bottom of the page, click on "Join Associates" and follow the instructions. (They call their affiliate program "Amazon Associates.")
You can link to their site as a whole or to particular items for sale at their site. When people who go to Amazon by clicking from a link at your site, you can earn referral fees that range from 5% to 15% of the sale price (up to a maximum of $10 per item). You get the highest referral fees when they click on a link for a specific product and buy immediately (and if that product does not have a high discount). If they shop around at Amazon before deciding to buy, you only get 5%. And if they come back another time to finish that purchase or to buy other things, you get nothing.
For example, I have been an Amazon affiliate for about five years. I currently get over 100,000 views and 30,000 sessions per month. I'm also an obsessive reader and have lots of content at my site related to books (including book reviews and lists of favorites). I have hundreds of links to specific books for sale at Amazon. In the first quarter of 2001, 2195 unique visitors clicked on Amazon links of mine and bought 85 items, worth $885, which earned me only $58. Maybe that's a slow time of year, so consider the quarter before that, which included Christmas. Then 2568 unique visitors clicked through and bought 86 items, worth $1586, which earned me $118. (You get paid quarterly.)
Take into account that my Amazon links are plain text. I don't use the graphics and banners that they provide. Perhaps that makes a difference. And also consider that once you set up a link, you don't have to do anything else -- your pages generate cash for you automatically. But don't expect to get rich this way.
For the last year, I've also participated in the AltaVista affiliate program. In that case, instead of a text link, I put a search box or automatic translation box on my pages -- providing a useful service to my visitors. I put the search box on a few of my most trafficked pages, with an explanation encouraging visitors to use it to find what they are looking for at my site (limiting their search to my site with the command +host:samizdat.com). I also put the search box on articles and presentations of mine related to the subject of Internet search. I put the automatic translation box on pages where I discuss the value and use of automatic translation for an online business. AltaVista currently pays two cents per click through.
In the first quarter of 2001, the pages with these affiliate boxes were viewed 50,923 times, and 22,788 times people clicked through to AltaVista. That's a ridiculously high 44.77% click-to-impression ratio, due to the closely related material on those pages, and probably boosted by some people using the translation and search boxes multiple times per visit. As a result, I earned $608 that quarter.
While I have focused on Amazon and AltaVista, thousands of other affiliate programs have sprung up, as well as companies that act as intermediaries, making it easy to signup for dozens of programs at a time and to keep track of many programs from a single site, rather than having to go to each and every one of them to see reports.
The terms differ widely and whether you get paid a percent of sales, or a flat rate per click through. And yes, it takes some time to sort out the details and add the appropriate links to your site. But once you create those links, there's nothing more for you to do. If people come and click, you make money.
So where do you go to learn more and sign up? First try intermediaries like BeFree.com, Linkshare.com, and Commission Junction www.cj.com. (FYI -- To sign up as an affiliate for AltaVista, you need to go by way of BeFree -- the AltaVista site doesn't seem to mention the program any more.) Each of those companies manages hundreds of affiliate programs. They give you all the information you need to get started, plus useful tips on how to make your affiliate links more effective; and they also provide complete and frequently updated statistics on how you are doing in the various programs. There is no limit to how many you can join, but there's a very close tie between the content of your pages and the businesses you are linking to, don't expect anyone to click through. Experiment, but don't go overboard. It takes time and effort to add affiliate links. Focus your efforts wisely.
Adding text links for an affiliate program is the same as making any other link on a Web page. Adding special graphics and forms/boxes can be tricky. After you've followed the directions for signing up and have chosen the look of the link/ad that you want to put on your pages, you will be presented with code that not only produces that look but also uniquely identifies traffic from that link as coming from your site, so you can get credit. Copy that code to your Windows clipboard. Then if you use Netscape Composer or an older version of Word, open your page, click on View Source, and paste that code into the page at the place that you want it. Once you have added affiliate code to one of your pages, avoid opening that page again with Word to make further edits to the page. Instead, make all your additional edits with Word Pad. When you do that, leave the existing code alone, and just add text. If you must open the page in Word again, or if you do so by accident, the affiliate code will probably be broken (doublecheck to see if the graphics appear as they should); if that is the case, then once again copy code from the affiliate program and put it on your page (with WordPad), deleting the old code that it replaces.
As described above for HumanClick, if you normally use Word 2000, save a separate copy of your page, then open this new copy in WordPad instead of Word. Look/search for the familiar text of your page amid all the strange code you see, and paste the affiliate code where you guess it should appear. Save the document, then open it as a local file in your browser to see how it looks. Experiment until you make the affiliate graphic appear where you want it, together with text to encourage visitors to try it.
For details about trends in affiliate selling and tips on how to take advantage of related opportunities, see the book Affiliate Selling: Building Revenue on the Web by Greg Helmstetter and Pamela Metivier, published by Wiley. They were guests on my weekly chat program in April 2000. You can see the edited transcript at www.samizdat.com/chat130.html
Surprisingly, companies with large successful affiliate programs (like Amazon and AltaVista) have little or no community-style interaction with their affiliates. They manage the programs with automated software that obviates the need for personal contact (except in rare instances), and don't make a effort to connect their affiliates with one another. On the one hand, imagine what a challenge it would be like to allow personal interaction among millions of affiliates. On the other hand, wouldn't you love to try?
To experiment in this direction, at low startup cost and with a minimum of hassle, first check the offerings at Yahoo Stores store.yahoo.com, Amazon's zShops zshops.amazon.com, and BigStep www.bigstep.com
Today at Yahoo, you pay a flat rate depending on the size of your store, with no per-transaction fee, no startup cost, and no minimum time commitment. For $100/month you can have up to 50 items for sale, plus unlimited related informational pages. For $300/month you can have up to 1000 items. Larger stores cost $300/month for the first 1000 items, plus $100/month for each additional 1000 items. You can register a new domain name through Yahoo for your store for $35 per year, or move your existing domain to your Yahoo store for $10 per year. For a revenue share fee (2% of sales, if your monthly sales are over $5000) you can be part of Yahoo's shopping destination, with merchandising benefits and use of Yahoo's express check-out service.
But remember, you don't just need a store front. You also need merchandise to sell. And from your experience selling through eBay, you now should have an appreciation of how much work, and expense can be involved in taking care of all the logistical details, including shipping, and record keeping, and collecting payment. Having to procure or produce the merchandise that you are then going to sell adds to the time-consuming details you need to be prepared to deal with.
Consider the Vstore alternative at
www.vstore.com They provide you with a complete store --
not just an online storefront:
"With Vstore.com, you can open a personally branded, fully stocked, online store in minutes. Vstore.com provides the products, design, marketing tools, and technology for free. All you have to do is customize the store and keep the profits!
"Before Vstore.com existed, starting an online business required a big investment in Web site design and technological hardware. Entrepreneurs also had to negotiate with vendors, pay for warehouse and shipping charges, and set up banking relationships to run their business. Now Vstore.com will take care of those details and leave you to enjoy managing and marketing your store."
They host your online store, manage the credit card transactions, and let you choose which brand name products to sell. That vastly reduces your work and headaches, but it also reduces your margin from what you would expect with a store that you managed entirely yourself. The percent of your commission depends on the merchandise. The examples they show range from 5% to 25%. Like many affiliate programs, they pay commissions once a quarter.
Don't underestimate the work involved in successfully running and promoting a Vstore. Keep in mind that the service you depend on is in the business of helping your competitors sell online too. Your store -- built with Vstore templates -- will look just like hundreds of other Vstores, many of which will be selling the very same merchandise you are. Your only differentiator will be the audience you build.
Yes, all the techniques we've discussed for promoting any Web site apply here, and you could have abundant links from your main site to your Vstore. But if you've gone through all the exercises, you should realize by now that those activities are time-consuming, that they require dedication, and that results don't come automatically. If you've already built a loyal audience for your site, and you are confident that that audience wants to regularly buy the kinds of products you could offer through a Vstore -- go for it. This looks like a good way to try to generate revenue from the audience you've worked hard to build. But don't expect to go from having no online audience at all to having a successful Vstore overnight.
If you have the financial resources to become a big player in online sales, you should consider the offerings of Cross Commerce www.crosscommerce.com and Vitessa www.vitessa.com Basically, these companies provide you with an online supply chain. They give you access to the suppliers of merchandise (at good discounts), with a choice of hundreds of thousands or even millions of items to put on sale. They provide you with the online tools you need to serve your customers and manage your business, and enable you to design a store with your own look-and-feel. They also take care of order fullfillment and after-sale customer support. If you are already in the retail business in the physical world, and if you already have built a related loyal online audience, and if you would like ready access to a wide range of products you've never dealt with before, for sale online, this might be the perfect solution for you.
Don't expect to find price sheets for their services at the Cross Commerce and Vitessa Web sites. They want to talk to you directly, figure out if you are a likely prospect, talk about what you might want to do, and negotiate a price. The cost might be a percent of sales, or a startup cost plus a substantial monthly fee.
If you are interested in trying to generate cash in exchange for access to your audience by selling banner ads at your site, you should subscribe to the email discussion list firstname.lastname@example.org and check the related Web site www.o-a.com There you'll be able to read the postings of and interact with 20,000 specialists in online advertising.
Advertising on the Internet probably has a bright future. But beware of depending on banner ads in particular. An abrupt drop in demand for banner advertising led to the demise of many Internet companies, some of which had huge audiences and excellent content.
The concept of banner ads was a natural follow-on to television advertising -- put your message in front of many people, who never asked to see it, and maybe enough of them will pay attention to give a boost to your sales.
Like television advertising, banner ads are an unavoidable nuisance. Yes, the advertiser can target particular messages to particular audiences -- by Web site, by particular Web page, or even based on the visitor's actions (like what they looked for at a search engine). But the banner ad takes up screen space -- that otherwise could contain useful information -- slows the loading of pages, and seeks to divert the visitor's attention from the main purpose of the page.
Unlike television advertising, banner ads invite you to go away. The Web site displaying the ad has gone to considerable trouble to attract this audience, and now the banner ad tries to get them to go somewhere else. (Imagine ads on television prompting you to change channels NOW!) Some sites are set up so clicking on a banner ad opens a separate Web browser window or a Java window, while the original page remains visible. But in any case, the ad is a diversion, intended to lead the visitor down a new path to additional information and different experiences.
Users eventually learn to tune out banner ads, as evidenced by the fact that despite ever more flashy, high tech, dancing and prancing versions, they generate fewer and fewer clickthroughs. And as you saw in Chapter One, many use special software that blocks out banner ads.
Web site owners lose traffic when people do click through, and lose advertising revenue when they don't. In any case, they need to invest in more powerful technology and faster Internet connections in order to effectively display ever fancier banner ads and still provide the user with reasonable response time.
And advertisers are disappointed by the results -- too few people pay attention to the messages.
So it's no wonder that banner ads are dying. The miracle is that they have persisted so long.
But the underlying capability of the Internet to inform and entertain and link people to people continues to be strong, opening myriad creative ways to present useful information and marketing messages.
One might say that the worst problem with banner ads was the fact that they worked too well to begin with -- diverting creative marketing and advertising people down that deadend path, when they could and should have been coming up new approaches that consumers would welcome and enjoy.
What, for example? Try javapuzzlecards. They recently launched their beta site at www.javapuzzlecards.com Hopefully, they'll still be in business by the time you read this book. Even if not, the example can still be illuminating. [Author note -- This startup, based on an excellent idea, has, unfortunately, died.]
At this site, you can turn any digital image into an online jigsaw puzzle. You can easily add text to the image, so you have to put the pieces together to read the message. You just click-and-drag the pieces to assemble then. You don't need to flip or reorient any pieces, hence the puzzles are doable in a reasonable period of time. When two pieces are once joined, they remain joined and move together when dragged (for smooth and pleasurable solving).
People can create puzzles based on photos they've taken and send email to friends -- like with e-cards. The email has the URL where you see the puzzle pieces and assemble them. You could also make links to the URLs for particular puzzles from any Web page. For instance, a family page with photos could have links to puzzles based on some of those photos. And an art gallery site could have links to puzzles based on works it has for sale.
Take into account that Javapuzzlecards is in its infancy and hasn't worked out its business model yet. Presumably, companies could "rent" their own branded space on the javapuzzlecard site. Then they could brand their puzzle creation area and include advertising messages, if they like. And when people create their own puzzles there, the email messages they send could be branded and include messages. And the puzzle assembly area could be branded and include messages and links.
Advertising isn't its main purpose, but it could easily be used that way by creative marketers. These companies could also create their own puzzles with their own images and include associated links in messages they send out over their opt-in email lists. Assembling such puzzles is fun, and, as you do so, you naturally pay attention to the associated words, as clues to how to put them together. The more pieces you put together, the clearer the message becomes -- perhaps including a surprise twist of language or a joke. In this context, you are far more likely to remember the message, than if you just saw it in a banner ad. For instance, you could promote sales of books with puzzles based on book covers, promote movies with puzzles based on posters, promote music CDs with puzzles based on the packaging, promote children's cartoons with puzzles based on cartoon characters and scenes, and promote video games with puzzles based on characters and screen shots.
Give it a try. Go to www.javapuzzlecards.com. Create puzzles using images and messages from your best print ads, email them to your colleagues, and get their ideas on how you might use this approach. Let your imagination run wild. Start taking advantage of the true power of the Internet.
Many newspapers have tried to sell their online content by subscription. But, today, even the New York Times and London Times are free online.
Others, like the Boston Globe, are experimenting with making current news available for free but charging for access to the archives. The Boston Globe www.boston.com lets you search for free, then charges when you choose to retrieve the full text of an article -- $2.95 per article on weekdays, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time and $1.50 per article at other times. It's still unclear whether that approach will generate significant profit. (When was the last time you needed an old newspaper article so badly that you would have paid $2.95 for it?)
After numerous attempts to come up with a paid subscription model that would work, the Encyclopedia Britannica is now free on line, at www.briticannica.com
The much publicized, well-financed, and high-quality online magazine Salon tried and failed with a paid subscription model, then went free, and now is attempting a mixed model. Their regular edition is free, but they charge $30 per year for the "premium" edition. "Premium" means no banner or pop-up advertising, and extra editorial content (including "a weekly gallery of erotic art").
Well-respected sources of financial news have been able to go against the trend. Both The Wall Street Journal www.wsj.com and Barrons www.barrons.com offer a two-week free trial, then charge $59 for an online subscription ($29 if you already have a print subscription).
So how good is your content? Is its quality and reputation so great that you can expect people to pay for it when they can get the Encyclopedia Britannica and the New York Times for free? That might possibly be the case if you serve a very well-defined niche.
To clarify the alternatives in trying to make money from either content or audience, let's consider the case of a print newspaper with an online edition.
The news value of newspaper content changes over time, and the marketing value of content on the Web also varies over time -- but in different ways. Some newspapers now provide current news for free on the Web and charge for access to their archives. That model presumes that current news -- having inherent value, that people are used to paying for in the print world -- should drive traffic to the site. But, unless you go to great expense to build your brand name or unless you have the right partner agreements, no one will know that you have the latest story -- no one but the people in your traditional audience, who you can prompt with notices in your print edition.
The best way to capitalize on free current news to draw new traffic is in partnership with news distribution services, such as NewsEdge, YellowBrix, and ScreamingMedia. For instance, NewsEdge provides newsfeeds to Individual.com, which distributes them, tailored to individual needs, for free to individuals and Web sites. It's far more valuable to have your headlines dancing across the screens of thousands of users than trying to charge subscription fees for the latest content, like a subscription to a print newspaper.
But the revenue likely to come from charging for archived newspaper stories is very small, because only a handful of experts and researchers have sufficient interest in old news to be willing to pay for access to it. It makes much more sense to make the archives available for free, and use them to build traffic to your site -- storing all that text in search-engine friendly ways (e.g., as static Web pages, rather than in a database).
As for old news, a story from six months ago doesn't matter to very many people, but such a story would have had time to be included in search engines, to have been bookmarked by readers and linked to by sites devoted to that particular subject -- hence such a story could bring new traffic to your site.
In other words, while the news value of content declines over time, the marketing value of that same content increases over time. So it makes sense to use the old content as a marketing asset, rather than trying to sell it.
So what should you charge for? Perhaps not the old news and not the very latest, but rather recent news -- stories a day-to-a-month old. Those are the stories people pointed you to in email or that you heard about the next day or that you didn't get a chance to read on the day of publication. You know what you want. You know that you need it. You understand its value to you. And you'd be willing to pay to get it -- either by subscription or by the article.
But don't expect miracles. Live newsfeeds (through services like individual.com) and archives fully indexed by search engines can both boost your traffic. But, while you could make some money selling "recent" news, that's not likely to amount to major revenue.
You might consider giving away "base" level content, and selling a "professional" level. For instance, you could provide headlines and the first few paragraphs of each story for free; but charge (a la carte or by subscription) for the complete detailed story and related services (like tailored email news alerts). For this approach, you would want to have huge content resources available, perhaps including content you pick up from other newspapers in partnership deals.
Even if you provide free access to the content at your site, you might be tempted to force your visitors to register, because you could then sell mailing lists based on detailed demographic information you gather.
That model presents two problems. First, mandatory registration greatly reduces traffic, even when registration is free. People simply don't want to go through that hassle. Your traffic might drop to a quarter or even a tenth of what it is today if you suddenly added mandatory registration. And if you then sell those mailing lists, you could make lots of people angry, from all the spam they would get.
But you could make registration voluntary, and offer incentives for people to sign up (like the customer discount cards at supermarkets). Let people opt for email alerts etc. on subjects of concern to them, and also for email ads for special deals they might be interested in. Make people want to opt in. Then you can sell the mailing lists -- but only very carefully, so these people will only receive email related to the interests they have expressed.
This approach is a variant of advertising -- you are generating revenue by selling access to your audience.
Instead of selling your audience, consider offering them paid value-added services.
First strive to understand your global online audience, which may well be very different from your local real-world audience. Learn what they need and value, and build new businesses around what they want.
For instance, how many of your page views are for business-related stories? How many for sports? How many politics, etc.?
In terms of business, you probably have readers who are investment managers, investors, people looking for jobs as managers, people looking for companies to partner with, to sell to, and to buy from. Such people would probably value alerts (by email, to pager, to cell phone, etc.) when news directly affects something of importance to them. They might also value online events that put them in touch with decision makers and people with the reputation of being experts.
For teens, online interaction is probably more important that static content (and is probably far cheaper to generate). How many people in your audience, for instance, are teenagers who are into video games?
What value-added services might they be interested in?
Think audience. Then think how can you serve that audience. Your present content is an important element of the services you will provide (so long as it is searchable and alerts can be automated).
But once you have assembled such an audience, creatively consider the other ways you could serve them.
Also, remember this is the Internet. You don't have to do everything yourself. You could partner with companies that specialize in financial services or business information and research. Use incentive-based opt-in registration to glean good info about people's wants and needs. Then have other companies offer in-depth services to this audience.
Partner galore. Find people/companies who have services that would be of interest to the dozens of sub-audiences you already reach, and link those services to those audiences -- quickly and smoothly, with you taking a piece of the action.
First take a close look at iSyndicate www.isyndicate.com At their base level, their free "Express" service, they make it easy for their subscribers to link to your column (typically with new articles appearing once a week) from their sites. They also have a paid service by which subscribers buy the non-exclusive right to post your column at their sites. You might earn as much as $100 per month per subscriber. [Author's note: iSyndicate also died, and I don't know of anything comparable today, unfortunately.]
It's not easy to get paying customers this way. First you need to convince iSyndicate that you can produce consistently high quality material regularly for them to offer your content on a paid basis. Then you need to hope that their sales force will mention you (along with the many brand name publishers/writers that use this same service).
Also consider another creative syndication opportunity represented by Themestream www.themestream.com and The Vines www.thevines.com
Unfortunately, Themestream recently went under -- another victim of the dot-com slump, unable to get the venture capital it needed when it needed it, despite a huge audience and a very interesting business model. And competitor The Vines is facing such tough times that it just suspended its payments to writers. Hopefully, other companies will appear to fill the gap.
Themestream welcomed anyone and everyone to regularly post their writing at their site, where it appeared as "columns" in a wide variety of categories. You kept the rights to your work, and were paid solely on the basis of the audience you generated -- a few cents for every time someone clicked on an article of yours (similar to the rates paid by affiliate programs). Visitors who liked what you wrote could subscribe to your column so they'd see/receive it regularly. And you could use all your energy and creativity to spread the word about your column -- back articles as well as current ones. They had built an impressive assemblage of writers, and content on every subject imaginable. I only had the opportunity to publish through this service for a couple weeks before it went under, but in that time I got interesting feedback and a lead for a possible paid column for another site.
The Vines is similar in set up. But instead of paying per click, they have a revenue sharing business model. You get paid 5% of the revenue your pages generate, from advertising page-views etc. [Author note: Vines appears to have morphed into a music download site.]
One idea that looked very good when it first came out was the Amazon Honor System.
Piggy-backing on its own payment system and its customer base of 29 million customers, Amazon.com makes it easy for you to collect voluntary payments from visitors to your Web pages. In other words, you can make great content available for free, and request donations. This might work particularly well if your site serves a charitable organization.
Their system enables you to collect payments as small at $1.00, which visitors may want to leave as a "thank you" or as a vote of support for your efforts. Amazon says that you also could use this mechanism to "sell your digital content. Your visitors would eagerly pay for the MP3 music tracks, fiction, commentary, or artwork you offer."
They make online payments safe and easy for you and your customers. You don't need any software. The setup is similar to setting up for an affiliate program (putting their code on your pages).
Someone who clicks on an Amazon Honor System icon on one of your pages gets connected to your personalized PayPage at Amazon, where they get the information they need to make a payment decision, and then click a button to send you money. The customer pays Amazon by credit card (as if buying merchandise at Amazon), and Amazon transfers your earnings directly to your checking account. The maximum dollar amount per transaction is $50, and Amazon takes a fee of 15% of the total payment plus 15 cents per transaction.
This looks like a very good idea. I enthusiastically put these Honor System icons on a couple dozen pages at my site, including the online booklets of the non-profit Prescription Parents (which could certainly use some donations). But after a month, no one has donated anything. Perhaps you can find a creative way to use this system to sell your content.
Actually, the global nature of the Internet fosters two diametrically opposite trends at the same time. Yes, geography ceases to be a barrier to commerce; and companies anywhere can serve customers everywhere. But at the same time, cultural and language differences, that made little difference when markets were fragmented geographically, become major barriers to companies that would like to sell everywhere, and major opportunities to companies that can help deal with those barriers.
go to babelfish.altavista.com and translate at least one of your pages to the language of your choice.
try chat translation at Multicity
Smaller companies, without such expert help, should proceed carefully. Over-optimistic expectations of an expanding global business could either undermine the credibility of your business plans or lead you to waste precious resources at a critical time.
Frequently quoted global statistics of Internet growth are primarily based on experience in the US, which, until recently, dominated the Internet. But circumstances elsewhere can be quite different, leading to quite different outcomes.
The US has enjoyed the benefits of flat rate Internet pricing and free local phone calls. In many other countries, both Internet service and local telephone service are metered -- which can easily make Internet connectivity far too expensive for the average household.
The telecom infrastructure of a country also matters. In some countries, telephone lines are slow and unreliable, and it is virtually impossible to get a second line to your home.
On the other hand, cell phone pricing in the US usually includes air time and other metered charges; while in some other countries cell phone service is at a fixed, reasonable rate. In such countries cell phones (and services built on them) have spread rapidly, with many households having only cell phone service, and wireless Internet access might take off much faster in those countries than in the US.
Also, the word "user" may mean something very different in one part of the world than another. In some parts of the world, rental Internet access from Internet cafes is common -- where people have to wait in lines or schedule time in advance and pay high per-minute rates. People in such circumstances are very impatient with pages that are laden with ads, slow to load, and low in real content. In some countries business travel and use of laptops are common, and there's a need for services that help people keep track of files and appointments and email messages across multiple machines. In other countries, travel is restricted, laptops are rare, and people have access to just one machine and only at limited times. In the US, today, we typically have multiple computers per person, both at work and at home. But in some countries, it is common for there to be 6-8 users per computer, even in a business setting; with almost no access from home.
Keep in mind, too, that the success of your business model isn't likely to depend on the total number of Internet subscribers or users, but rather the interests, habits, and buying power of those who have subscribed. The total number of subscribers might keep increasing, but with different waves of newcomers -- like different waves of immigrants -- each using the Internet in different ways. So even if total numbers roughly tracked predictions, demand for particular products and services might shift sharply, following a different pattern. The next wave of newcomers may or may not have as much disposable income as the those who came before, and may or may not be more inclined to buy online, or to buy the same kinds of things. When sales projections based on sheer size fall apart, investor confidence falls as well.
So far, we have gone through two stages
of development in the Internet market in the US, and seem to
be starting on a third.
Stage one -- Access is primarily from businesses and universities. A well-educated, high-tech audience dominates. English language rules. The vast majority of users are male.
Stage two -- Large numbers of consumers come online, accessing the Internet largely by dialup from home. The percentage of women goes from very few to more than half. Children arrive in large numbers. Online shopping takes off, but the people doing the shopping have less buying power than the average user in Stage one.
Stage three -- We are probably just at the beginning of this stage. Everyone who wants an Internet connection is connected. The number of new individuals connecting slows dramatically. But households already connected are itching to upgrade from dialup to continuous high-speed connectivity. And Internet growth continues in terms of the number and variety of gadgets connected, with the average person connecting to the Internet in multiple ways (including wireless) for multiple purposes.
Other geographic areas will probably go through such stages, but not necessarily in the same order. For instance, we'd expect local language to become very important in Stage Two, with its masses of consumers. Hence it would be important to build portal sites catering to local languages everywhere, and to provide many local-language versions of the content of major sites serving a global audience. But parts of the world where women and children have lower social status and more limited roles than in the US, may not go through Stage Two at all, at least not soon. Rather they might go straight from Stage One to Stage Three, with very little growth in consumer-oriented shopping among average citizens, and relatively little need for local language, for now.
Also, the level of Internet usage that represents "saturation" -- the point at which Stage Three begins and growth continues by adding new gadgets more than by adding new people -- may vary sharply from country to country and culture to culture, maybe going as high as 80% in some areas and staying well below 50% elsewhere.
Basically, even if markets are "global" geographically, they may still be diverse, fragmented, and complex because of language, culture, economics, and telecommunications infrastructure. Proceed cautiously, with an appreciation for the differences you are likely to encounter.
But at the same time keep your eyes out for unique new opportunities. If you or your ancestors came from a different part of the world than you live in now, consider the possibility of serving a diaspora audience -- people with a common culture who happen to live scattered throughout the world. And if you happen to be familiar with two languages/two cultures, consider running an online business that acts as a bridge between them, helping companies and individuals on either side to work smoothly with one another. For instance, consider the possibility of facilitating online multi-language/multi-culture business meetings, with live translation and culturally sensitive facilitation available.
Also, don't presume that large companies will want to simply make their sites available in multiple languages. Providing foreign language versions of content is a cost -- and a major one, when you consider the need to translate every change as well as all new pages. But a local ecommerce site in the target country could be a profit center. In other words, a company like Amazon might be reluctant to take on the task of translating everything at its site to German, but might welcome an opportunity to open a business in Germany (which, in fact, it did). In other words, you should distinguish between a local language version of a Web site, and a fully operational local site. Don't expect single monolithic businesses to dominate each market niche globally. Rather, if you are located outside the US, consider the possibility of working with a global leader and creating and running a local business in partnership with them.
If the focus of your business involves the regular use of multiple languages, you will need the accuracy that only comes with hand-crafted translation. And to avoid serious blunders, you may need cultural translation/consulting as well. But if your foreign language need is intermittent, automated translation may be an acceptable solution, and a valuable free addition to your Web site. While automatic translation has problems dealing with idioms and colloquialisms, for ordinary business communication it can be remarkably helpful.
To see how automated translation works, go to MultiCity, click on "Live! Lounge", then on "All Active Chat Rooms", with the drop-down menu next to "Topic" pick a chat room, then click "Join" to enter that chat room. Once there, pick a pair of languages -- one to send in, and one to receive in. For instance, if you choose to send in French, even if you type in English, the output to the chat area appears in French. And if you choose to receive in German, everything that everyone types, regardless of the input language, appears to you in German. The speed and ease of use are amazing. The languages available are English, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish.
You can create your own multi-lingual chat rooms. First register. Then click on "Access my tools", and, under "my CHAT ROOMS" click on "Create a New Chat Room." It's simple and free, and it doesn't disappear when you leave the site. You can link to your chat room and include it as part of the basic offerings of your Web business. For an example of how that could work, go to The Benjamin Franklin Institute of Global Learning at www.bfranklin.edu/bfi/ and click on "TextChat" (as opposed to "Chat Room").
If you would like to have such automated translation capability right on your PC -- for dealing with all your local documents and email -- check the software offerings of Systran, at www.systransoft.com. But if your main use of translation is occasional online use, and, in particular, translation of Web pages for yourself and for visitors to your site, then you should check the free services made available by AltaVista at its Babelfish site, http://babelfish.altavista.com
The term "babelfish" derives from The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Once you put a babelfish fish in your ear, you can understand any language in the galaxy -- language is no longer a barrier.
The AltaVista Search site www.altavista.com adapted to the multi-lingual Internet environment by partnering with companies around the world to set up mirror sites, which provide local content and instructions and help in local languages and have the server located in the target country for fast response time. Currently, they have mirror sites in Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
AltaVista also lets users limit their searches to pages in particular languages using a pull-down menu on the search form (Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish). Using the language menu to pick a particular language, and performing a search in Advanced Search for *, you can see that the AltaVista index now includes over 31 million pages in German, 29 million in Japanese, 13 million in French, 12 million in Chinese, 8 million in Spanish, 6 million in Russian, 5 million in Italian, and 5 million in Korean. Yes, English still predominates, with over 367 million pages, but thousands of non-English pages are added every day -- including pages with information that could be valuable to you if you could both find it and make sense of it.
At AltaVista's Babelfish site, you can enter a URL, or type or copy-and-paste any text into the box, and you can translate from English to French, German, Italian, Spanish, or Portuguese; or from any of those languages to English; also French to German, German to French, and Russian to English. Unless the server is extraordinarily busy, you get the results almost immediately. And unless the text is idiomatic or laden with slang, you are likely to get remarkably good translations.
This service uses automated translation software from Systran. Hence it has the strengths and the limitations of automated translation. Don't expect perfection. Don't expect it to understand and correct misspellings and grammar. Don't expect artistic and colloquial translations of poetry and rap lyrics. Do expect quick and useful renderings of business-related information.
You can have fun checking how it handles tricky figures of speech that would challenge a UN interpreter, or by translating from English to another language and back multiple times and watching the ever-increasing distortions of meaning. Or you can use this as an aid to help you smoothly navigate through foreign pages.
This translation service is intimately tied into the AltaVista search service, making translation part of your normal Web-navigating experience. Whenever you do a search, matches in your results list that are in any of the languages now covered come with a "translate" link. Clicking on that takes you to a page where you select the language you want to translate it to. Then clicking on "translate" again, provides you with the page itself -- with all its graphic look and feel, including all its hyperlinks -- with the text in the language of your choice. From there you can continue to explore as you normally do in the Web environment.
Search engines that are built around the syntax of any particular language lock themselves out of the rest of the world. But AltaVista understands nothing about any language. It just captures all the text it finds and treats it all equally. (Within a couple weeks of when the original AltaVista Search site went on line, the developers got email from people in Korea who had typed in queries using their Korean keyboards and had gotten good results pointing to Korean pages.)
They recently added a "world keyboard" to this service. Just click on the keyboard icon, and a virtual keyboard appears in a Java window, and you get a new, associated translation form. The keyboard has a dropdown menu of language choices: world (English characters plus a few special characters and accented letters used in other European languages), English (useful for people whose keyboard are set already in non-English languages), French (for translating French to English and French to German), German (for German to English and German to French), Spanish (for Spanish to English), Italian (for Italian to English), Portuguese (for Portuguese to English), and Russian (for Russian to English). When you select a language, the characters on the keyboard change accordingly. Then you can type in the translation box by clicking on the keys of the virtual keyboard or by hitting the equivalent keys on your real keyboard; either way the character you see in the translation box will be a character from the language you have chosen.
This innovation makes it much easier to
enter foreign text for translation. In the past, you had to
have your PC's keyboard set
to enter characters from that language, or had to cut and paste into the translation box text that already had the appropriate non-English characters, or you had to enter English "equivalents" of foreign characters, which sometimes led to ambiguity.
Unfortunately, the words that you type with the virtual keyboard are only for use in that search box. This is a Java application which makes it impossible to copy and paste the text from the box to anywhere else. (This is unlike the main Babel translation page, where you can copy text -- complete with accents and non-English characters from the results box to any other document on your PC.)
Also, because of performance issues, the size of the text it will translate is limited to about 800 words or two double-spaced typed pages. If a document is longer than that limit, only the beginning will be translated; then you will encounter the words "TRANSLATION ENDS HERE" and the balance of the target Web page will appear in the original language. If the balance of such a large document is important to you, you can copy-and-paste additional chunks of text from the original into the form at the Babelfish page, one piece at a time, by hand. That's awkward, but it can solve your immediate problem and prevents one person's "need" to translate an entire book from slowing performance for millions of other people with the less demanding requirements.
Also, this service only translates plain text. Words embedded in graphics remain unchanged. And words that appear in Java applets or inside frames or inside databases do not get translated when you submit a URL for translation. And if you submit for translation a URL that is behind a firewall or on the other side of a password-protected registration page, Babelfish won't be able to fetch and translate the text. But you can copy-and-paste text from any source at all -- from newsgroups or forums or chat sessions or your email or your own personal files that reside on your personal computer. Or you can simply type in whatever text you like.
First, make sure that your pages are in a format that can be translated. If much of your content is plain text, then you are in good shape. But if you are using sophisticated techniques that create pages dynamically on the fly or are using frames or the text is generated from databases or appears in Java applets, then you have locked yourself out from taking full advantage of this capability. Perhaps you should consider creating a plain text version of your pages that will be translatable (and also be indexable by search engines like AltaVista).
If your pages do have translatable text, you could use AltaVista to translate them and save the resulting pages, even large pages created by copying-and-pasting chunks, at your site; then offer visitors the choice of which language they would like to see. But in that case, you are vulnerable to the vagaries of automatic translation, and an horrendous blunder caused by the inability of the software to understand a colloquial phrase might damage your reputation among the very people you are trying to open your site to.
Also, in that case, you take on a significant maintenance burden -- having to change your translated pages every time you change the originals; and additional overhead in terms of disk space and Web site complexity.
But the underlying technology of Babelfish makes possible an interesting alternative. If you do an AltaVista search which yields a particular page in the match list and then click on the word "translate" next to that match, you arrive at the Babelfish translation page with the URL of the target page already in the form. Bookmark (Favorite) that page and click to return to it. Once again you see the URL of the target page in the form. You can also copy and paste the URL of that Babelfish page and make a link to it from any page of yours.
If you have a Web page with less than 800 words of text -- small enough so you can feel confident that Babelfish will translate the whole thing -- go to AltaVista and do a search for url: followed by the complete URL of the page of yours that you want to make available for translation. In the search results listing for that page, click on Translate. You should arrive at Babelfish with that URL already entered in the box. Copy the URL for that translation page and link to it from your original page. Add some text to that page telling visitors (perhaps in more than one language), "for a rough translation of this page, click here." Once at the Babelfish page, visitors can choose the target language they want and get the translation, created on-the-fly, at no cost and no hassle to you. A simple explanation at your site can set user expectations appropriately. You are not responsible for the quality of the translation. You are providing this link as a convenience.
If your pages are in English, this technique would open your site to visitors who read French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.
These phrases (with the appropriate accent marks, all copied and pasted from Babelfish) connect with hyperlinks to the matching documents. Here is the full text of the English version of that explanation, which you're welcome to use at your own site. You could also simply link to any or all of the translation pages listed above.
On the target page, click the left mouse button in the left margin beside the starting point in the text, and drag your cursor down over a couple of paragraphs (about a third of a typed page) to select them. Then, in the toolbar, click EDIT, then COPY to save the selected text to your Clipboard.
Next, bring up the translation page. Position your cursor over the translation form. Click the right mouse button and then PASTE. The selected text should now appear in the form. Below the form, click on the down arrow to select the language pair you want (such as English to French). Then click on TRANSLATE. The translated text should appear in a second or two.
To save the translated text in a file, click and drag (as above) to select the text; and click EDIT and COPY to place the text on your Clipboard. Then open a document in your word processor and paste the text. Return to the original document and select the next piece of text. Return to the translation page, click NEW TRANSLATION, paste the text in the new form, and proceed as before. Keep doing this as many times as necessary to translate and save the entire text.
The results should be useful, but they'll be far from perfect. (If you're reading this text in a language other than English, you can judge for yourself how good or bad it is.)"
If you encounter a Web page in an Asian language that you don't recognize, copy the URL into the Babelfish translation page and guess Korean, Japanese, or Chinese. Keep guessing until the translation works.
First, consider our initial purpose. You were to learn the basics of the Internet business environment so you could operate an existing online business at low cost, if necessary; and so you could see alternatives and opportunities that could help make that business successful. Or as an entrepreneur, you were to learn how to get started, to take care of all the basics of setting up an online business without depending on investors.
Still, it's only natural to look for the winning formula -- the insight that could lead to riches. It's simply not satisfying to hear that success depends on hard work, and is not guaranteed.
Cheer up. Today, we see two huge waves of business change and opportunity coming on the Internet. One is based on high-speed access. The other is wireless. These waves will bring new issues, new opportunities and new risks.
In this chapter, we'll give you some preliminary experience in those realms, adding capabilities to your experimental Web site and gaining insight into possible new business models.
use Realaudio to record and post a message (need microphone)
add voice chat to your Web site,
buy a webcam and use it at Spotlife
Then, last month, I put an audio book on the Web -- nearly 20 Megabytes for a single book. Before that, my entire Web site, which gets over 1500 unique users a day, took up less than 15 Megabytes. So why was I suddenly being so wasteful? What's going on?
What I hadn't realized, but should have, is that disk space on the Web, not bandwidth, was the main barrier to the proliferation of creative do-it-yourself multimedia.
Quality streaming audio has been available, working well even with a 28K modem, for years. With "streaming" media, compressed content flows to you continuously over the Internet. That means that you don't have to wait a long time for a file to download to your hard drive for you to play back later. It also means that you don't need a huge hard drive to save all the multimedia files you enjoy.
Real.com makes available for free both the basic player software (RealPlayer) and the software you need to create streaming media files (RealProducer). I had enjoyed audio and video on the Web as a consumer, but had never considered producing my own material and making it available on the Web because the files were immense compared to text, and my space on the Web was severely limited. Sure, I could experiment, making files for my own consumption, and taking advantage of the extra gigabytes on the hard drive of my new PC, but Web space was still precious.
Now, all of a sudden, disk space on the Web is abundant and free or inexpensive. That makes an enormous difference, unleashing my creative instincts, and probably the instincts of many others as well.
A couple years ago, free Web-hosting sites like Xoom (now NBCi), Geocities, and Tripod typically made available 10 Megabytes of space. Now they've all raised their limits considerably, and NBCi offers unlimited disk space for free. If you don't like the response time, or you'd prefer your own domain name, and you'd like a service that's set up to efficiently handle streaming media, professional Web hosting, with unlimited Web space is now very reasonable. I recently moved my Web site to www.hispeed.com. This new service is in California. I live in Massachusetts and my former ISP was in Massachusetts as well. But while it was a long distance call for me to get support from the local ISP, it's a toll-free call to reach the one in California. And while the local ISP didn't have support during the night and only a skeleton crew on weekends and holidays, the new one offers 24/7 support. At Hispeed, in addition to unlimited Web space, I get unlimited traffic, and an account with my own domain name for just $19.95 per month. For a couple dollars more a month, I get support for doing RealAudio and RealVideo. Suddenly, I can freely experiment with audio and graphics.
So I took The Lizard of Oz, a fantasy that my wife Barbara and I had self-published as a paperback back in the 1970s, and recorded it, chapter by chapter using the microphone on my PC and the RealProducer software. Then I used Bob Zwick's free eBookIt software www.cottagemicro.com/ebooks. I wound up with an online edition of my book that includes the text and illustrations very slickly and readably presented. To hear the narration, you need the RealPlayer, but the free version will do just fine, and it works great. Check the book out at www.samizdat.com/liz
In other words, anybody can now make attractive and useful audio books. A high school class or even an elementary school class could, with the equipment and Internet connection they already have, make online editions of public-domain classics -- recording the narration themselves, and posting the massive files in free Web space. They could do the same thing with their own writing as well. And anyone, anywhere in the world, with an ordinary modem-based connection to the Internet could enjoy these creations. And if you have a PC with a read-write CD drive, you can make copies of these books on CDs and sell them through online book stores, like Amazon.
In other words, a revolution has happened, quietly. And it didn't happen because of some great new technological advance or some massive increase in bandwidth. Rather, with the decreasing cost of high-capacity hard drives, unlimited disk space on the Web became available at low cost, and that has made all the difference.
Next go to Real.com Download and install the free basic RealPlayer, if you don't have it already. Or splurge and buy the higher quality latest and greatest version for $29.70. Also download and install the free version of their RealProducer. Don't pay for the professional version of that until you have experimented and have come up with a way to profit from the files you create. (Don't spend hundreds of dollars unless you are sure you will use it).
Real.com does an excellent job of
hiding their free versions, in hopes that you'll pay instead.
Try navigating through their stie to the right download
page. This is what works today:
On the home page, in the right column, in the section about learning more about streaming media, click on "Streaming Media Starter Kit".
In the left column, click on "Other Resources".
In the Q&A under "Where can I get all these cool products", click on "click here".
At the bottom of the page, click on "Real System Producer Basic".
That free version works quite well, and will enable you to create both audio and video files.
Once you have installed the software,
run it and make your first audio file. You'll see a choice of
"recording wizards". Check "recording from media device". That
means record from a microphone. Click "OK". Under "Input
source", click "Capture Audio", then "Next". Give your file a
title and enter any other information you choose to. Then
click "Next". Under "File type", choose "single-rate for Web
servers". That way you will be creating files that will run
fine on ordinary Web servers, instead of requiring that your
hosting service run special software. The fancier version
gives the receiver of the file a choice of speeds. This simple
one sends everything at a single speed -- which works just
fine for audio. Video is more demanding. Click "Next". Under
"Target audience", select "28K". That works just fine for
audio. And if you are going to run at a single speed, you want
it to be a speed that will work for just about everyone. Click
"Next". Under "Audio Format", choose "Voice Only", then click
"Next". Under "OutPut File", either enter an entire file name
(with the directory), or click "Save As" and browse to the
directory you want and then enter the file name, which must
end with the suffix ".rm". This is the file that you will
later upload to your Web server by FTP. Click "Next" then
"Finish". Now you are ready to record. Under "Recording
Controls", click "Start", and start talking. Read something
you have written -- an article or memo. Keep this first
recording short -- just a few minutes. Click "Stop" to end. If
you'd like to record again overwriting the original file, just
click "Start" again. To listen to what you've just created,
click "Play" or launch your RealPlayer software and open the
file. Connect to your Web hosting service with FTP and upload
this file. Now use your RealPlayer to open the file on the Web
(the Web address will be your site URL, with the name of the
audio file at the end, e.g., www.samizdat.com/test.rm). You
can link to such a file from any page at your site, just as
you link to any other file. If a visitor clicking on that link
has the RealPlayer installed, that application should launch
automatically, playing your audio.
What else can you do with audio?
You can use that same RealProducer software to broadcast live. From the Wizard, choose "Live Broadcast". Under "Media Server", enter the name of your Web host, the same name you use for FTP; together with your user name and password and the filename, with ".rm" as the suffix. If that doesn't work, ask the support people at your hosting service for help. Once you have the setup right, anyone connected to that file on the Web will hear everything you say into that microphone, live. In that mode, you could think of yourself as a radio announcer, broadcasting to a global audience, consisting of the handful of people that you can convince to connect at that time.
You could also create a Web page with links to many saved audio files of yours -- or music files, if you are a composer and musician.
So start your imagination rolling -- if you can do this much with a cheap microphone and free software, what might you be able to do with a professional (but still not too costly) setup? And how could you build a business around audio on the Web? You don't need any kind of license to broadcast over the Web. If you can build a library of interesting audio content and if you can build your own audience, you could consider setting up your own online radio station. Otherwise, you might want to contact existing stations to see if they might be interested in your material. To sample a variety of stations, go to Real.com and under "RealGuide", click "RadioTuner". If your content is professional quality, contact RedBand www.redband.com and AudioBasket www.audiobasket.com for possible syndication.
If you are inclined toward becoming a multimedia publisher, download and try the eBookIt software that I used for my Lizard of Oz, at www.cottagemicro.com/ebooks. You can use that same software to create files for the Web and for CD ROM. If you decide to make CD ROMs, you can duplicate them with your PC (if you have a Read-Write CD ROM drive), and use your printer to generate professional-looking labels. Then you can sign up for Amazon's Advantage program and sell your CDs through them on a consignment basis. To do so, you'll need to get ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers) for each of your titles. That's the number that all book stores and distributors use to uniquely identify the merchandise they have in their catalogs and warehouses. You buy those numbers from R.R. Bowker at www.bowker.com (the publishers of Books in Print). It will take you a week or two to get accepted into the Amazon Advantage program and once you get your first order from them -- probably for just a couple copies -- it may take a few weeks for them to enter the item in their catalog. But then anyone, anywhere in the world, looking for a book with a title like yours will be able to find yours. And if they decide to buy, Amazon will ship it to them within 24 hours. If you want to make significant profit, you'll need to find other outlets and do some marketing, but this is a simple and inexpensive way to get started and test-market your product.
Also, consider other outlets that might be interested in audio book content simply as files, not on CD, such as -- Audible.com and MP3Lit.com They sell their books as files for people to play on portable MP3 players in their cars or while exercising.
If you have found HumanClick a useful tool for starting a dialogue with your Web visitors and trying to turn them into customers, consider using voice chat in a similar way. First, go to Excite www.excite.com Click on "Help". In the "Directory" in the left column, click on "Excite Voice Chat." Register, follow their instructions and create your own voice chat room -- for free. Once you have done so, you can link to it from any page at your site. For instance, from the page I use to market my consulting business at www.samizdat.com/consult.html, I link to my free voice chat room at www.excite.com/communities/chat/voicechat/client/launch_vc?room=rseltzer5 Anyone who clicks on that link and has a microphone can start talking to me live over the Web. They can register and sign in, or just check in as a guest. The room can handle up to ten people at a time, and those people can be located anywhere in the world. And nobody is paying long-distance charges for this call. For professional quality solutions involving voice over the Web, consider the offerings HearMe at www.hearme.com If you happen to use Eudora for email, you can try out a free version of HearMe at www.eudora.com/products/voicecontact/
Such technology makes it easy to deliver voice support and help or long-distance consulting very inexpensively. Imagine how you might use this capability to serve your customers, and imagine the businesses you might create providing direct customer interaction for other companies. Also, imagine business models where you facilitate the conversations and interactions of others, helping Web visitors connect with one another, in an audio variation of an online community.
Once you have installed the camera, connect to SpotLife www.spotlife.com and sign up. In a matter of minutes, you can be available with video only or audio plus video through a "channel" of your own, delivered through their site. Your channel can be public (open to all) or private (requiring that the people in the audience have your authorization). You might only want to let in people who you know, or you might charge for membership. The quality of the image depends in part on the quality of the camera, but probably more on the speed of the Internet connections at your end and the recipient's end. Normally, the image is small and fuzzy; and the action is choppy. Check out what others are doing with this medium. Perhaps you can come up with another, more creative business model that works fine with low-quality live images.
SpotLife helps you connect to an audience of strangers.
You also can use your QuickCam without SpotLife. Simply launch the software and follow instructions to broadcast live, or record videoclips using your camera. Or use this camera as video input for RealProducer.
As an alternative, go to a shareware software site like Download.com or Tucows.com, and get the latest trial version of webcam32. This software lets you serve up still images to the Web at intervals of a few seconds. Because you aren't broadcasting live motion, the images can be larger and sharper; and they can be received much better over slow connections. The software automatically FTP's the images, in .jpg format to the Web address you assign at your site. All you have to do is connect to that page with a browser to see the latest image. I have a Web page -- put together by a friend, Anthony Alvarez -- that is set up so the image automatically refreshes. When I do my weekly text-chat sessions about Business on the Web, I usually turn my camera on, and those who wish can see my almost-live image at www.samizdat.com/cam/live.html If you'd like to do something similar, go to that page, save it to your hard disk, open it with WordPad, and edit it to meet your needs -- changing the address after "value=" and replacing my text with yours. To get the Java applet that Anthony wrote to make this work, go to www.samizdat.com/cam/JavaCam.class (the address is case sensitive) and save that file. Then upload that file to your server, together with your edited version of my live.html file, putting both of them in the same directory. And in the setup for Webcam32, send the camera images to that same directory, with the name webcam32.jpg
You might also want to experiment now with Microsoft's Netmeeting, CUSeeMe, and other video software -- to hold videophone conversations, and videoconferenced meetings. If quality is important, upgrade your equipment and software and make sure that all participants are well-equipped and have fast connections. Even in the worst-case situation, the creative, entrepreneurial possibilities are very interesting.
When video and audio are live and two-way, they can serve as a means to extend the ways that people relate to one another, and they also can become very efficient means for communication -- conveying non-verbal clues that are essential in negotiating and building relationships.
As mentioned in Chapter Two, in Neal Stephenson's cult-classic novel Snow Crash, it is the ability to recreate subtleties of facial expression in "avatars" (on-line alter egos) that makes virtual/alternate reality take off.
I suspect that there will be several stages in the development of video for the Internet -- tied to developments in visual quality (resolution) and speed (frames per second). What we usually see today is little better than still photos transmitted frequently (as with Webcam32) . You get to look at a still photo or a small, fuzzy, jerky video image while someone talks. There's a recognizable face, but there's no connection between the expression on that face and what the person is saying.
If you happen to be well-equipped and have a fast connection, maybe you can see something closer to smooth motion. Gestures may seem natural, and the person at the other end may look more like a human being than a poorly programmed robot.
Over the next few years, from both greater compression and faster connections, expect Web-based video to advance to the point the very high levels of resolution capture all the subtleties of human expression. (If we were going to be limited to today's speeds, detailed analysis of facial expressions could probably lead to low-bandwidth approximations of this level of quality -- focusing on just those aspects of the face that seem to convey the most information about a person. But since we won't be limited, and there will be little incentive for that kind of development.)
The real winner -- the Holy Grail of personal videoconferencing -- will be eye contact. How do you mount and synchronize cameras at both ends to create the compelling illusion that you are looking someone in the eye and that person is staring right back at you? Then you will be able to communicate a full range of emotion, with all the associated messages of sincerity and credibility; and video over the Internet will become a major, indispensable, business tool.
What kinds of business models might work today? The opportunities seem to fall into three categories: direct, indirect, and background.
Direct involves selling audio/video content and experiences over the Web (as through SpotLife), or selling advertising based on the audience that such content attracts.
Indirect would be use of audio and video to help sell products or to improve your online delivery of service (such as training and fix-it services). Imagine not just talking a customer through computer repair procedures, but demonstrating what you mean, live, in front of a webcam, and perhaps also seeing what the customer is doing through his/her webcam.
In background applications, the camera is on all the time. These applications include monitoring and security. Some daycare centers and summer camps are setup with webcams so parents can click at any time from work and see their kids in action. They could also set up to allow the kids to periodically see and hear their parents, if the parents are equipped with webcams and microphones.
With work-at-home arrangements becoming commonplace, webcams could enable bosses to see constantly see their remote employees.
Also, imagine a webcam embedded unobtrusively in your new car. Someone breaks in, the webcam clicks on, and you and/or the police or a security company sees who's in the car, what's happening, even where the car is.
Doing that with a car requires wireless access, but wireless, too, is becoming more readily available, with speeds increasing and prices dropping, leading to a variety of interesting new business possibilities.
Fixed wireless includes wireless over local area networks (LANs) up to a few hundred feet, and also wide-area wireless, which with fixed antennas can cover a metropolitan area. When a laptop with a compatible radio modem is within range of an antenna, it can connect to the Internet. For instance, a few years ago, when I worked at Digital, many of us had transceivers attached to our laptops. From most rooms in most buildings inside the company, we could connect to the LAN and therefore to the Internet, so we could do email and check documents on the Web from anywhere -- being productive during the most boring meetings. But you had to be within a narrow range for those transceivers to work. Wide-area wireless is what would probably be used for that webcam-in-a- car application suggested above. And wireless delivered by way of satellite could provide connectivity from anywhere.
"Wireless wireless" includes connecting cell phones, pagers, palm computers, or other gadgets to the Internet, piggybacking on existing wireless phone and data services. For instance, with a data service like Sprint, you would get Internet coverage wherever Sprint has voice coverage.
Wireless is an inexpensive and flexible way to build the IT infrastructure of a company or university campus. But the activities it supports are very much the same as usual -- whatever you can do with ordinary PCs and laptops. Fixed wireless capability can be tied to real estate value, like office buildings and convention centers. Eventually, you should have access to that kind of Internet connectivity from airports and other places where travelers with laptops often have to wait.
"Wireless wireless" involves a different set of limitations and opportunities. It's not just another way to get to the same old Web pages. The screens are small. There's little local memory. Input is slow and awkward. And access speeds today are very slow compared to what we've become accustomed to with full-blown computers. While the rest of the world is moving to multimedia, these gadgets thrive on plain text.
Services that want to appeal to people accessing the Internet with wireless gadgets -- major news services, online stock trading companies, and shopping sites -- find that they need new versions of their pages tailored for these gadgets.
First you need to get some insight into how these people use their devices, and the only way to do that is to buy and use one yourself.
Get a palm device, any of the many gadgets that are compatible with those made by Palm Computing. Depending on the model you choose and the deal you get, this might cost you $150 to $250. It need not be a wireless model -- any palm device will do. (If you get wireless, you'll incur the additional expense of a wireless service provider).
These gadgets come with Schedule, Address Book, ToDo List, and Memo areas pre-configured. You enter information with an easy-to-learn shorthand version of normal writing, using a stylus (a pencil-shaped piece of metal with a smooth tip, so it won't scratch the screen). Or you can buy an add-on keyboard. You can also "beam" information, using a built-in infrared link, to other users of the same gadgets. And you can "sync" the information on your palm device with information on your PC, by way of a cradle that connects to a port on the PC and special software you get with the device. The screen is small, but perfectly adequate for the snippets of information that people normally use them to store and retrieve. Software companies have come up with many interesting and useful applications that you can add to your device -- from keeping track of golf scores to reading electronic books. You may soon take yours with you everywhere and make it part of your normal routine -- even using the built-in alarm to buzz you with reminders of when to do what, over the course of the day.
Since you can sync your palm device with your PC, if your PC is connected to the Internet, you can also receive information from the Web on your palm device. In fact, you can sign up at various "sync" services on the Web, like Avantgo www.avantgo.com, pick one or more "channels", and have fresh news on your selected topics loaded into your palm device whenever you sync. Since these devices have limited memory, what at first seems like a convenience can soon turn into a nuisance, with all this unorganized content using up your valuable space. And if you are a Web site owner, you need to negotiate with the different sync services to make your content available through them -- at significant cost and hassle, as a separate activity from running your Web site.
As a palm device user, you appreciate the ease of using the built-in applications. This isn't a PC with gigabytes of space where you can dump any and all information. This is prime real estate, private property. You want to put up "no spamming" signs. You want to keep your palm filled with the contacts, events, and notes that matter to you. You can surf the Web with your PC and input information you find there to your palm device, by hand. But you'd want to avoid that time-consuming, error-prone hassle.
Coola www.coola.com has a quick and easy way for transferring pre-selected chunks of information from the Web or an email message to a palm device (either wireless or non-wireless). [Author's note: this was a great business idea, but it didn't survive.] Go to their site, register, and download and install their software. One piece stays on your PC, and another small piece goes on your palm device. Then to test how this works, either use examples at their site or go to a page of mine where I use it www.samizdat.com/start.html Click on the Coola link you see there. Then the next time you sync your palm device, the information connected with that Coola link will be transferred to the appropriate application on your Palm device. In this case, the opening sentences of a good book will be placed as an "untimed" event in your Schedule for that day. You'll see the title at the top of your Schedule, and when you access the attached note, you'll see the quote.
As a Web site owner, you can create "Coolets" like this for free at the Coola site and then add links on your pages. These Coolets could be contact/address information, or scheduled events or reference information. You choose which palm device area the information belongs in when you create the Coolet. You could have a Coolet with your business card information. If you have a page targeted at your customers where you list the names, addresses, and phone numbers of your support or sales staff, with descriptions of their areas of expertise or their territory, you could have a Coolet attached to each. If you are putting on an event, you could have a separate Coolet for each agenda item or session. By doing so, you made it convenient for the palm device users in your audience to remember the kinds of things that you want them to remember; and you do so at no cost.
With this same service, people with PocketPCs and cell phones can access that same information through those same Coolets on your Web pages. And, with professional, paid services from Coola, you can set up to create numerous Coolets automatically, for instance for a large directory.
Today, we see 3D-like experiences on the Web in real estate for virtual tours of buildings. And some sites present products in 3D format, so customers can view them from a variety of perspectives.
It's easy to imagine 3D presentation of new cars, with the buyer able to check the look of all the options from a variety of angles. Also, a site selling home remodelling services and home furnishings could allow customers to experiment in virtual space, changing the color of the paint or the wallpaper or moving furniture around, or seeing what other furniture would look like there -- to experiment with the kinds of modifications that they are interested in making. That could be much more valuable than a physical walk through, but might be too expensive to implement.
Repair services and instructions could benefit from 3D. But 2D webcam images might suffice.
The real winner -- the application likely to make the 3D an essential part of our online lives -- is likely to be Web navigation.
Trenza, a company co-founded by my son Bob, has developed technology that has been described as "Myst meets the Web", presenting today's Web pages with the ease of navigation and the sense of physical presence that we expect to find in videogames, and opening new creative opportunities for use of the space "between the pages" for advertising and engaging new kinds of content. [Author's note: Trenza, too, did not survive. But it was a great idea.] Instead of just seeing a flat page with text and graphics, imagine a panorama stretching into the distance, populated with Web pages and related experiences. You see your navigational choices ahead of you. As you move forward and turn, some choices come closer, others move farther away, and your angle of view changes. You get a tactile feel for how you got to where you are, making it easier for you to remember. Standard Web pages appear as billboards in this landscape. 3D pages and experiences come in a variety of forms. In the space between the pages, you see avatars representing the people who are actually viewing those particular pages at this point in time, including yourself. And you have the option of engaging in voice chat conversation with one or more of them -- perhaps with support staff from a store, or with a remote friend who is on an online shopping excursion with you. A host can moderate a live discussion "around" Web pages. Users can browse together, fill out Web forms together -- generally collaborate with one another around Web pages.
This approach is particularly appealing with complex, rich Web sites that offer visitors a vast set of choices that can be confusing and overwhelming in 2D form, and could be far clearer and simpler in 3D. But it also opens interesting possibilities for any size business that would like to fully engage the attention of its audience and provide a memorable and useful experience. Today, you give your Web designers chalk and a blackboard to work with; tomorrow, with 3D, you could give them the equivalent of the Sistine Chapel to challenge their creativity.
Other 3D players that you should check include: Macromedia, which has authoring tools to help developers create 3D content, Adobe which is launching a 3D plug-in, and WildTangent which has a deal with Sony Pictures to create online 3D content and games to help market movies.
If you haven't already, go to www.napster.com, signup, and download and install their software. Then begin to use their service to fetch songs that you'd like to hear.
Regardless of the outcome of the legal battles regarding rights to and payments for music, the rapid, phenomenal success of Napster changes the Internet business environment. Yes, anybody could set up a Web server to make it easy for people to download music or any other kind of digital file. But what Napster did was to make it easy for Internet users anywhere to connect directly to one another and share files. The music doesn't reside at the Napster site. It sits on your PC and the PCs of millions of other Napster members. That's what makes such a service so impossible to police.
Napster uses a central site to manage the users, but has no control over what they put on their PCs and what they decide to share with one another. Napster just makes it easy for someone in Peking to find out that you have a particular file that he or she wants and to make a copy of it on his or her own PC. Individuals can name their files however they want. So automated efforts to block the sharing of particular copyrighted material can be circumvented simply by individuals changing the spelling of names or adding a letter or number here and there.
What works so well for music could work just as well for any other kinds of digital files -- text or graphics or video or animation. And while Napster is set up as a global system connecting tens of millions of people, the same technology could be used to link together much smaller, more focused communities of users.
Another approach to P2P sharing known as Gnutella does the same thing without any central management of users. Gnutella client software is basically a mini search engine and a file serving system in one. You search a Gnutella Network and get the files that you want -- any files at all: music, pictures, video, text, software -- anonymously. To learn more and to download the software, go to http://gnutella.wego.com
The music industry should love Napster and do everything it can to help it thrive. Napster is an identifiable responsible party who can collect fees for them. If Napster goes under, anarchic Gnutella-style file-sharing will get an enormous boost, resulting in an environment where no one is in charge, no one is accountable, and the music companies get paid nothing.
While Napster and Gnutella connect individuals so they can share the files on their hard disks, other P2P setups are designed for individuals to share processing power, for distributed computing -- making it possible to do work that normally would require enormous and expensive supercomputers by using the idle cycles of home PCs.
The first highly publicized instance of that was the SETI@home project (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), where individuals connected to the Internet volunteered to make unused computing capacity of their PCs available for doing calculations that normally would require an expensive supercomputer.
Now dozens of companies have started or announced plans for similar services, where they will recruit participants and sell the cumulative processing power for business, science, medicine, etc.
One of the most publicized of these projects is Juno's "virtual supercomputer project". Juno, the free ISP we discussed in Chapter One, has over 4 million active members. It wants its members to give up a part of the processing power on their PCs to run data analysis which Juno will put together for paying customers. Rumor has it that they might make participation in this project a requirement for free access. (See Internet World, April 1, 2001).
Other companies experimenting in this new realm of shared distributed computing include DataSynapse www.datasynapse.com, Porivo www.porivo.com, Distributed.net www.distributed.net, and United Devices www.uniteddevices.com
One of United Devices's projects is for cancer research. As they explain "Download the UD Agent and truly be a part of a world-changing project. The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) Centre for Drug Discovery in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, England, is working with United Devices and our Member Community in the search for new drugs in the treatment of cancer." As of today, they boast 318,612 members with 443,579 total devices connected, having donated 39,834,919 hours of computing time.
build flypaper pages
gurus can state with a high degree of confidence that the
amount of information storable on silicon will roughly double
every year for the near future. Known as Moore's Law, that has
been the case since the technology was invented back in 1962.
Also, memory usage tends to double roughly once every 18
months, following "Parkinson's Law of Data," that data expands
to fill the space available for storage. As these and related
principles play themselves out, computers keep getting faster
and capable of storing more and more data; and "standard"
software programs become greater memory hogs, requiring ever
more powerful computers to run them.
For more than 10 years, we've seen hardware capability and software requirements advance in lock-step. Intel keeps making ever faster computer chips, the storage companies make ever more powerful disk drives, and Microsoft comes up with new versions of its software that require all this new processing power and storage space. Your PC, which is quite adequate for word processing, email, and all the other tasks that you typically perform, becomes obsolete every two to three years, because you need to run the latest version of the software so you'll be compatible with what your colleagues, partners, suppliers, and customers use. Many business people are betting their business plans that both those trends will continue for another ten years or more. But will they?
You can assume that the hardware trend, based on technical feasibility that has already been proven in labs, will hold true. But the market trend of ever increasing demand for processing and storage capacity could easily change. Alternative approaches -- such as a rival operating system (Linux), increased use of Web-based distributed storage, and applications that run on the Web rather than on PCs -- could break the pattern.
Similarly, the speed of Internet access has been increasing rapidly and predictably. Back in the 1970s, people connected to the Internet with 960 baud modems. By the fall of 1994 when Netscape's first browser was released, 14,000 baud (14K) modems were common. Today, most people who dialup to connect to the Internet, use 56K modems; and increasing numbers consumers have far higher speed DSL and cable modem connections from their home, in the range of 1,000,000 baud (1 Mbit). By 2006, 100 Mbit access could be commonplace in the US, and 1 gigabit (1,000,000,000) could be available to some people. At that point, the speed that signals move over the Internet is as fast as the speed that signals moved inside computers not that long ago. Full-motion video becomes practical, as does the running of computer applications remotely, rather than on your own PC; together with a whole new set of interesting business models.
That kind of prediction is based on what can be done in labs today. But will people continue to rapidly adopt this new technology? You need to be prepared for such eventualities, but without banking on them, because people and human institutions are highly unpredictable. Legal issues (affecting the availability and price of interesting audio and video content), government regulations affecting the level of competitiveness in the business of selling high speed access, government regulation of content, taxation, the state of the economy, and business practices (including pricing models), can all have a major impact. (In the early days of the Web, the rapid growth of usage in the US was fueled in large part by the fact that local telephone service in the US was based on a fixed monthly fee, rather than metered; and that early Internet Service Providers established a practice of charging a fixed monthly fee for unlimited usage.)
For several years, we witnessed an insane rush to invest in dot-com companies. That was followed by an equally insane rush to pull out of such investments. If that downturn continues, will the capital be available for the infrastructure changes necessary to make extremely high speed access widely available? And will consumers have the cash to keep upgrading their equipment and to pay for ever higher levels of Internet service?
As you went through the exercises in this book and became familiar with a wide range of capabilities that you may not have been aware of before, you may have been tempted to try similar business models yourself. Balance that temptation with the expectation of rapid and unexpected change. The very technology advances that seem to make a business a sure winner might just as easily fuel an alternative that you can't anticipate today.
For instance, you might consider going into some variant of the Web hosting business. With the cost of disk storage and of high-speed access declining rapidly and predictably, you'd expect that business to have a great future. And the services they provide could include remote storage to supplement the storage on your PC and for backups and archiving; and also the renting and running of applications, which today you buy outright for your PC and which you might end up paying for on a per-use or subscription basis. In other words, it looks like the world is headed toward a model where computing and storage and applications can all take place remotely, and the gadget on your desk need not be all-powerful. You might want to bet on a distributed computing model, where the Internet becomes the computer and where users turn to small, inexpensive "appliances" instead of full-blown machines on their desks.
But at the same time, we see an equal and opposite trend. At some point, the disk space on a home PC and the speed of connection of that PC to the Internet becomes so great that it is tempting to run a Web site from your home -- bypassing Web-hosting services.
Will that happen? Some technical folks have been running Web sites from the PCs on their desktops for three years or more. Widespread adoption will depend on how cable and other high-speed access companies set up their service, and the business terms they adopt -- to either encourage or discourage such practices. It will also depend on how quickly inexpensive and easy-to-use software becomes available for personal Web hosting. Five years from now, new PCs might ship with such software pre-installed and with the necessary business arrangements built in (as today you can buy PCs with an Internet access contract bundled into the price.) And you could have so much storage available on your PC and such a high-speed connection that it could automatically store for you a complete copy of all the content on the Internet that you have any immediate interest in. Then "agent" programs of yours could automatically fetch new material from the Web, to refresh the pages you use regularly and even anticipate your needs, guessing what pages you might be interested in and then alerting you that it's available. In other words, instead of the Internet becoming your computer, your computer becomes the Internet.
So what, if anything, can you bet on?
Expect that the Internet itself will become less visible as it becomes so widely used and so pervasive that we take it for granted. It will become embedded in appliances and cars, and gadgets of all kinds, just as computer chips are today. You won't know it's there, or care. All you'll care about is the functionality that's based on it.
Over the last decade, you have often heard of the "convergence" of information, communication, and entertainment technologies. But increasingly, users see greater divergence and diversity.
Don't expect one technology to deliver a knock-out punch to another. Don't expect either the computer-on-the-Internet or Internet-on-the-desk model to win. Rather, expect a world where full-blown all-powerful PCs co-exist with inexpensive, limited, network computers and with a multitude of very inexpensive specialized devices, many of which have wireless connections to a fixed wireless broadband provider.
Soon, everyone will have gadgets and
Web-based services galore, each of which, taken individually,
looks like a great time-saver, opening new opportunities. But
that's like having dozens of remote controls in your living
room. You'll need new services to help you deal with all the
growing diversity and to help all the underlying services and
gadgets and PCs work together smoothly. You'll need systems
and agents that understand "who" you are -- your needs,
knowledge, tastes, and capabilities; the resources you have
access to, the prices you need to pay for the resources you
want, and your ability to pay and how you prefer to pay.
In other words, when assessing Internet business possibilities, you should not extrapolate the trends of current data very far ahead. Pay attention not just to the numbers, but to the human context in which you interpret the numbers. Expect the context to change, sometimes radically; but even in "normal" times expect it to change enough to distort your predictions. When you do business on the Internet, you are operating in an accelerating frame of reference, where static (Newtonian) principles of business may not apply.
But one principle appears to be constant: the Internet is primarily about people, rather than technology. While it does connect computers to computers, documents to documents, and people to documents, its most revolutionary capability is connecting people to people. It connects people together quickly and efficiently and in ways never before possible, leading to new kinds of relationships and new kinds of businesses.
If you have an old work gathering dust, or work in progress, or an idea that somebody might be interested in, post it on the Web, and get the page well indexed, and see what kind of response you get. Don't expect immediate results; but once you are on the Web, anything can happen.
Keep in mind that:
Most people navigate the Internet by way of search engines. Hence, content -- text -- can draw traffic to a Web site.
Pictures which are directly related to products can help sell those products, but graphics used for decoration simply slow the user down -- they don't attract anyone.
If you want targeted traffic at low cost, design your pages for search engines. That means design your pages for the blind, because the webcrawlers that fetch pages for search engine indexes operate just like the blind.
Keep your pages simple.
Don't be intimidated by the technology. Don't do things just because technology makes it possible to do them. Do what makes sense for your business, for serving your customers well.
So how should you use the Internet to improve your business today?
Talk to your customers.
Get to know your customers.
Serve your customers as well as possible.
Keep your eyes on the customer.
Use Internet technology to reach new global customers.
Use the Internet to build closer relationships with customers, to understand them better, and to serve them better.